Shannon Howard of Greenville, South Carolina, gets a kiss from Patrick Dempsey in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston on Friday when he greeted her and other warriors and bike riders from the Challenge to Conquer Cancer, who had just arrived after biking or driving 1,300 miles from South Carolina to take part in this weekend’s Dempsey Challenge.
LEWISTON — Nancy Muir has been volunteering with the Dempsey Center for eight years. Typically, she also walks to support the Dempsey Challenge, but this year, the 77-year-old was sidelined by a knee injury.
She’s moving more slowly than usual, you understand. Can’t get around the way she used to.
Then Patrick Dempsey appeared on the sidewalk and whoosh! Muir was off like a sprinter. A half-second later, she was giving Dempsey a big old hug and a kiss before the throngs of other admirers could reach him.
“I didn’t think he’d remember me,” Muir said after. “But he did. He’s such a nice guy.”
On the Lewiston side of Longley Bridge on Friday afternoon, hundreds turned out to meet Dempsey along with a team of bicycle riders who came all the way up from South Carolina.
While the usual mobs of people crowded around Dempsey, 66-year-old Sheila Barnies had other ideas.
“I’m going to do something different,” she said, and then marched over to Dempsey’s bodyguard and hugged him instead.
It’s OK, though — the bodyguard happens to be her brother.
Like so many others who came out to help launch the start of the weekend event, Barnies is a longtime supporter and volunteer with the Dempsey Center. When she started all those years ago, she was as healthy as could be. Then, six years in, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to turn to the center for support.
“You think you’re never going to need that kind of help yourself, but then it happens,” Barnies said. “You get the diagnosis.”
Muir has never been diagnosed with cancer, but her son and daughter-in-law were not so fortunate. For eight years she’s been volunteering with the Dempsey Center, she said, as a way of giving back to those who provide so much help to the suffering.
“It’s a wonderful place,” Muir said. “And they need to know that the people of Lewiston-Auburn are here to support them.”
The team of riders from South Carolina arrived a minute or two after Dempsey, wheeling into Lewiston to a cacophony of cheers, cow bells and car horns. They had pedaled for 1,300 miles to support the Dempsey Center and now, at last, they were in Lewiston’s Veterans Memorial Park.
Thoughts on the long trek?
“I’m tired,” said Tedd Garner, of Greenville, South Carolina. “And I need a shower.”
Friday morning started off rainy and cool, Garner said. As they made their way toward Lewiston, the bikers thought they might be in for a long, wet ride in the rain.
“Then we got here,” Garner said, “and it’s perfect.”
It was. At about 3 p.m., the clouds parted and the sun came out. The day was bright but not blazing hot as it has been.
“It’s so nice to be cool again,” said Linda Garner, Tedd’s mother, who flew up from Savannah, Georgia, to support her son and the Dempsey Center.
One of her sons suffers from brain cancer, she said.
“It’s just amazing how many people come in support,” Garner said. “It blows me away.”
The South Carolina-based Challenge to Conquer Cancer Riders have been traveling to Lewiston for five years now. This year, according to the riders, the trek was mostly uneventful.
“It was a great ride,” said Tedd Garner, “but a long ride.”
There were some difficulties at the beginning, said rider Milton Bowen. On the very first day, one rider was hurt in an accident.
“It was just a fluke thing, but he had to go home,” Bowen said. “Other than that, it was a pretty smooth ride.”
And now that they were in Lewiston, Dempsey himself, who created the center in 2008, was there to cheer them on.
“How do you all feel?” he asked them. “It’s so good to see everybody.”
Spend the rest of the day relaxing, Dempsey advised them. The Challenge starts bright and early Saturday morning.
At a news conference Friday afternoon, Challenge organizers announced that more than $1 million dollars had been raised this year for the Dempsey Center.
Emily Gardner, with the organization Positive Tracks, said there is something about the Dempsey Challenge that engages people, including the young people with whom the organization works.
“It’s so much more than just a charity to them,” Gardner said. “It’s just an incredible group.”
Riders from the South Carolina-based Challenge to Conquer Cancer cross Longley Memorial Bridge from Auburn into Lewiston on Friday after a 1,300-mile ride. They met with Patrick Dempsey in Veterans Memorial Park briefly for photos and autographs.
Patrick Dempsey, center, applauds a group of riders and “warriors” who had just arrived in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston on Friday after taking part in a 1,300-mile bike ride from South Carolina participate in this weekend’s Dempsey Challenge.
Patrick Dempsey is reflected in the sunglasses of Jamie Cole of Maryland, a “warrior” from the group Challenge to Conquer Cancer, as he greets the group after its arrival in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston on Friday afternoon.
Support vehicles crowd into Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston Friday afternoon.
Angie Stringer of Anderson, South Carolina, wipes away tears as she sits in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston on Friday after arriving with her group, the Challenge to Conquer Cancer. She was thinking of a friend who was with her and the group last year who recently died of cancer.
The Dempsey Challenge is the signature fundraiser for the Dempsey Center, a leader in Quality of Life care for individuals and families affected by cancer. The center provides a personalized, holistic and integrated approach to cancer prevention, education and support. The Dempsey Center was founded in 2008 by actor Patrick Dempsey, a Maine native, in response to his mother’s multiple bouts with ovarian cancer. Find more information on the Dempsey Center at dempseycenter.org.