LEWISTON — The Dempsey Challenge wrapped up the two-day event Sunday with the announcement that more than $1 million had been raised.
With TV celebrity Patrick Dempsey leading the way, hundreds of cyclists rolled off on runs of 10, 25, 50, 70 and 100 miles Sunday morning. The riders all represented stories of cancer survivorship, of living with recent diagnoses of cancer or of memories of relatives of friends who fought cancer.
About 4,000 people of all ages took part in the third annual fundraising effort to benefit The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing at Central Maine Medical Center. Dempsey, a native of Buckfield, plays Dr. Derek Shepherd on TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” He founded the Dempsey Center at Central Maine Medical Center in 2008.
The riders in the noncompetitive bicycle runs swapped experiences as they made new friends along the way. As they pedaled along roads in Androscoggin and Oxford counties, hundreds of people cheered them on.
Dozens of cyclists crowded around Dempsey at the Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers factory near the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, which was the first rest stop on the 100-mile cycling route. He posed for pictures, signed autographs, chatted with them and hugged many of them as they related stories of their experiences with cancer as patient or caregiver.
Cynthia Martell of Belfast said, “I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and I went to Central Maine Medical Center for my care, so I am grateful to Patrick Dempsey. I am here today because of him.”
She said it was her first Dempsey Challenge ride and she was aiming to complete the 100-mile circuit.
Sean Savignano, an employee of Rainbow Bicycle and Fitness, Auburn, was busy under a canopy in the Moser parking lot with numerous repairs for people on the ride.
“Some people are just dusting their bikes off for the first ride of the year,” he said. Needs of riders included various adjustments and air in the tires, as well as gear and chain problems.
A group of 19 riders from Livermore rode in memory of Alan Libby, who died of a heart attack while training for the 2010 Dempsey Challenge. Libby’s favorite saying, “It’s All Good,” was printed across the back of each rider’s bright red shirt.
Riders for L’Equipe Albert sported bright yellow shirts. Austin and Leigh Albert, Lewiston, said several family members are doing the 50-mile run in memory of relatives.
Levi Leipheimer, 2008 Olympic bronze medalist and three-time Amgen Tour of California winner, was in Lewiston for his second Dempsey Challenge as a guest professional cyclist.
“I’ve noticed a big change in Auburn and Lewiston in just one year,” he said. “I think things are picking up here. I’ve noticed a lot of renovation.”
Leipheimer also observed that the Dempsey Challenge “has become a part of people’s lives here. They come out to the side of the road to cheer us on, and of course everyone wants to meet Patrick.”
He said Dempsey is “one of the most gracious people I have ever met. If there’s a group of people beside the road, he’ll stop and talk with them for 10 minutes. It’s really cool to see.”
It was a particularly special weekend for Laura Davis. She is a 22-year cancer survivor, facing the disease seven times. She was named the 2011 Breakaway from Cancer Survivor Award winner. The award is given by Amgen, a biotechnical company that develops cancer medicines and a major sponsor of the Dempsey Challenge.
“This has been an amazing weekend,” she said. “I didn’t really know what it meant until yesterday when so many cancer patients came up to me and told me their stories.”
Davis described the “Champions’ Dinner” held Saturday to honor top fundraisers. She said its emotional impact was tremendous because, as each award was announced, a cancer patient from the Dempsey Center “came on stage and looked the fundraiser right in the eye and said 'thank you and here’s what those funds have done for me.'"
“I just felt that connection, patient to fundraiser, was so amazing,” Davis said.
“I think Lewiston-Auburn really gets it right,” she added. “There are not Dempsey Center’s all over the world. I think we have created a model here that other communities can look at.”
Mary Dempsey, who is the TV celebrity’s sister and executive director of the Dempsey Center, said Patrick stays on top of the Center’s activities throughout the year. Although the Challenge is a two-day event once a year, she said, “He calls us often and he wants to know what’s happening and what we need.”
As the final day of the 2011 Challenge wound down, a worker at the medical tent in Simard-Payne Memorial Park said there had been no serious injuries or medical problems during the two-day event.
“Just a few little Band-Aids here and there,” she said.
Peter Chalke, CEO of Central Maine Health Care, said the total amount raised for the Dempsey Center should amount to nearly $1,200,000 when all the money comes in. He emphasized that every cent goes to the Center’s patient services and those services are provided without charge.
At closing ceremonies Sunday, it was announced that Harold Marden was the top fundraiser with $10,316.
Top fundraising team for the second year was a group called Buddah Rubbers, which has representation from as far as Dubai and France. That group’s total this year is $23,505 and their two-year total comes to about $53,000.
Aimee Arsenault, event manager, said, “This has given the community something to really be proud of.” Dempsey put an arm around her when she began to choke up a bit as she spoke.
Dempsey’s turn to tear up came next as he took the microphone back and told the crowd he hopes everyone will take the 2011 Dempsey Challenge and “use it as a starting point to do even more here.” That brought Dempsey’s mother forward with a hug for her celebrity son, who founded the Dempsey Challenge following his mother’s fight against ovarian cancer.
Dustin Bisson, 15, of Greene was the top youth fundraiser of this year’s Dempsey Challenge. He raised about $7,000 by making and selling bracelets with 18 colored beads representing different types of cancer. That amount will be doubled through matching donations.
Top high school fundraisers were Buckfield High School and Edward Little High School, Auburn.
Jasper Meyer of Lime, N.H., was recognized for top fundraising for Positive Tracks, a new youth-oriented program.
Chalke announced that the 2012 Dempsey Challenge is scheduled for Oct. 13 and 14.