Don’t let a barrier be a barrier

In my books, the word “mush” conjures up a person who is overly romantic and sentimental, or a thick mushy cornmeal cereal.
But for Rachael Scdoris, “mush” is a command she uses to make her sled dogs start pulling or move faster in the famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
This year, like every year, the 1,100-mile Iditarod race began in Anchorage and ended in Nome, Alaska—a distance roughly equal to the distance between Washington, D.C. and Miami.
Mushers have been running the race every year since 1973, with the first Iditarod winner making it in 20 days. These days, mushers usually finish the course in nine-17 days.
This year’s winner, Jeff King, finished the race in nine days, 11 hours, 11 minutes, and 36 seconds. Amazingly, Rachael Scdoris finished only three days later—in 12 days, 10 hours, and 42 minutes.
I say amazingly because Rachael was the first blind person to compete. The 21-year-old had a visual interpreter—an experienced Iditarod racer—who drove beside her telling her when to duck low-lying branches and where the trail turned.
Although Rachael was born with a rare disorder that severely limits her vision so much that she is legally blind, she has been dreaming about this race since a little girl.
Her father raised and trained sled dogs. Even as a toddler, Rachael loved to play with the puppies. As a young girl, she rode in a dog sled behind her father.
By age eight, she was begging to mush solo.
As a result, she mushed a one-mile trail by herself at age 11. Then last year, Rachael qualified for the Iditarod. But, unfortunately, her dogs became sick after 700 miles and she had to give up.
This year, she finished the course. No mean feat!
She had to endure wind speeds of 60 m.p.h., temperatures of 52 below zero Fahrenheit, and sleep deprivation. But she did it because Rachael Scdoris is not a quitter.
As a young woman, Rachael already has accomplished much. She was honoured by the Women’s Sports Foundation in New York City as one of the top women athletes in America and was chosen to carry the Olympic torch to the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002.
She even has written a book with the help of Rick Steber, “No End in Sight: My Life as a Blind Iditarod Racer.”
Before the race, she told Good Morning America, “as far as the whole eye thing goes, people consider that bravery. I don’t think that it is. It’s just not letting what most people consider a barrier be a barrier.”
Those of us this side of 60 can identify with this young athlete. As we get older, many of us have some level of disability—we no longer have 20/20 vision, it’s often difficult to hear what people are saying, and our knees and hips don’t work as well as they once did.
When you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself, think of Rachael. She said, “Some call my blindness a disability. To me, ‘disabled’ means ‘unable.’ I am by no means unable.”
So always remember to celebrate what you are able to do, no matter what the challenges. And don’t let anyone label you “unable.”
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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