Challenge gears up for 2010 event

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LEWISTON — With 166 days remaining before the starting gun sounds on the second Dempsey Challenge, organizers Thursday reported new sponsors, more volunteers and more need.

This year’s two-day event has about 700 volunteer positions, said Wendy Tardif, who is managing the charity event. About 240 are filled so far.

“We want to energize people to sign up,” Tardif said.

She and other leaders gathered Thursday at Simard-Payne Memorial Park to talk about plans for this year’s event, scheduled for Oct. 2 and 3.

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So far, people have been registering for the events — 5K and 10K run/walks, a kids’ fun run and 10-, 25-, 50- and 100-mile cycling challenges — at a faster pace than last year.

More than 2,000 people on 200 teams have signed up. Those numbers hadn’t been reached until midsummer for last year’s inaugural challenge, Tardif said.

“We’re way ahead of last year,” she said.

Each person who enters must agree to raise a minimum of $150. Last year, there was no minimum.

To help people reach and surpass last year’s $1 million take, the challenge has named last year’s individual fundraising winner, Shannon Gilmartin, as this year’s fundraising ambassador. She is hosting regular online chats and fielding questions from people about how to reach donors.

The Buffalo-area woman used many online devices, including Twitter, to pitch donors. She raised $10,130 last year. So far, she has gathered $2,700 and hopes to reach the $15,000 mark by this October, she said.

The money helps fund the free programs at the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing.

This year, the center is offering new programs for children who have been affected by cancer. Fundraising also has helped the staff grow to meet demand, said Kerry Irish, the Dempsey Center’s program director.

“We started with just three people,” she said. The center now has 12 full- and part-time employees.

As the center and the challenge become better known, more people have been seeking help.

In 2009, the center recorded almost 8,000 contacts for service, Irish said. This year, it’s on track for about 11,000.

The number of participants in the challenge is also rising.

The 2009 event capped registration at 4,000 people. This year, organizers have set the capacity at 4,000 walkers and runners and 3,500 cyclists.

Because the event will occur over two days, people can register for more than one event. So far, about 9 percent of registrants plan to cycle and walk or run, Tardif said.

Actor Patrick Dempsey plans to attend again this year, she said. Dempsey, a Buckfield native, founded the center in March 2008 after his mother was diagnosed and successfully treated for ovarian cancer.

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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