Dempsey Challenge brings over 1,000 cyclists

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“Fast Freddie” Rodriguez snaps a selfie with Patrick Dempsey’s sons Darby, left, and Sullivan. Rodriguez is a professional road racing cyclist and rode the Dempsey Challenge with the Dempsey family Sunday. The event started and ended in Lewiston.

LEWISTON – For those participating in the second day of the ninth annual Dempsey Challenge, the rain didn’t affect their intense compassion and drive, and those gearing up for a long bike ride were still smiling.

Day 2 at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston brought over 1,000 cyclists, riding 10, 25, 50, 70 or 100 miles.

The 35 participants of the two-day bike ride left Saturday and returned from Freeport on Sunday, having biked a total of 140 miles.

Patrick Dempsey participated in the 25-mile ride, and was joined by his wife, Jillian, and twin boys, Darby and Sullivan. Jillian said their daughter, Tallula, was sick and unable to attend.

Dempsey kicked off the event with his usual charm and gratitude, with some help from a few guests, including Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald and Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte.

“(The Dempsey Challenge) put us on the map,” said Macdonald, who is leaving office after the November election, along with LaBonte.

The ride began with Dempsey and his family in the front, along with professional cyclist “Fast Freddie” Rodriguez, who joined Dempsey in the very first challenge and “fell in love with event.”

Dempsey rode in the 25-mile ride with his son, Darby, who sped way ahead of the rest of the riders, while Jillian and Sullivan rode about 10 miles.

“I’m more of the talkative one,” 10-year-old Sullivan Dempsey said.

“You exercise your vocal chords more,” said his mother playfully, who was “almost as impressed” with the people standing on the side of the road, cheering with bells, as she was with the bikers in the challenge.

“It’s just so nice, they’re so dedicated and supportive,” Jillian said.

The cheerleaders along the road were from around the world.

A group of four women, Rabab Kazem of Kuwait, Isabell Brueck of Germany, Gladys Chow of Venezuela and Tracy Karamon of Michigan all came just for the challenge.

For them, it’s a “mini vacation”, and they get to not only support those fighting cancer, but also see Brueck’s favorite race car driver, Patrick Dempsey.

Locals were there to cheer on the cyclists too. Bill Burns of South Paris was there with Boy Scout Troop 121 supporting their Scout Master, Don Malpass, and his son, Cody, who rode in the challenge.

“We like to cheer people on, and it’s good to see Patrick,” Burns said.

Meanwhile, back at Simard-Payne Memorial Park, volunteers were greeting returning bikers, handling mishaps such as flat tires, and beginning to clean up.

“We have about 600 volunteers to cover 1,000 volunteer areas of the challenge,” said Volunteer Coordinator Donna Lafean.

With over 3,500 participants this year, the challenge takes a lot of work, and the Dempsey Center’s marketing manager, Dani Campbell, said they’ll probably start planning next year’s event Monday.

“Next year we hope to make it bigger and better,” Campbell said. “We’ve set a lofty goal of $1.5 million. I’m so proud of this event and everyone in it — people work so hard all year long for this.”

Renee Linsdon of Lewiston has volunteered at the challenge every year since the beginning. She’s also a five-time cancer survivor.

“My philosophy is heaven doesn’t want me and hell is afraid I’ll take over,” she said. She has had ovarian, cervical, uterine, and breast cancer, as well as melanoma and lymphoma.

It’s people such as Linsdon who inspire those fighting to keep going.

“I’ve been inspired all weekend,” said Amanda Dempsey Award winner Christina Parrish. “It’s infused me with hope that was much needed to continue doing what I have to do.”

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Patrick Dempsey rides down Riverside Drive in Auburn on the first leg of his Dempsey Challenge bike ride with his family and friends.

As of Sunday morning, the 9th Annual Dempsey Challenge raised over $1.1 million, all to directly benefit the Dempsey Center in Lewiston. 

With a total 3,529 participants this year, it’s no surprise. 

Concentra, the top Corporate Team Fundraiser, brought in $52,000. The top Friends and Family Team Fundraiser, Smiles & Laughter A Bridge to Hope, brought in $59,000. 

During the closing ceremony Sunday afternoon, Dempsey Center Director Wendy Tardif said it’s amazing to hear everyone’s stories and learn why they participate. 

“It’s so touching and incredible why people take part in the challenge and the fundraising,” Tardif said. “It allows us to keep all our services free of charge for anyone who walks through our doors.”

Patrick Dempsey was happy that the sun finally came by the end of the day, and he was buzzing with excitement at the success of the weekend and the lobster and beer. 

“The success of this event is because of you and your contributions, your time and your energy, and most importantly your hearts,” Dempsey told the Lewiston-Auburn community. 

“It’s nice to walk around and see so many happy people,” he said. “So many people in different parts of their life experience. There are a lot of young riders this year, older riders, and survivors riding this year.

“There are a lot of people who wish they could stand here right now and be a part of this event and they’re in hospital rooms. They don’t have that opportunity. There are people that we have lost along the way that we ride with,” Dempsey said. 

He promised an even bigger and better event next year for the 10th Annual Dempsey Challenge. 

Jeff Ludwig from Amgen said he was inspired by the volunteers, participants, and fundraisers for making the weekend so successful. “You’ve made a difference not only this weekend but to the lives of thousands.”

Ludwig said he would be leaving this weekend “inspired and with a renewed passion to fight cancer.” 

Matt LaPierre has ridden in the 100-mile Dempsey Challenge ride for five years, four with a team from work, and said he still enjoys it. 

“It keeps me in shape, it’s what keeps me motivated all year long,” he said. 

Jim L’Italien and David Hathaway rode as a team with their friends and family, also in the 100-mile ride. 

L’Italien said this is his second year participating. He said the rain made the course more challenging, “but cancer doesn’t stop in the rain, so we pushed through it.” 

He said they like to support the Dempsey Center. “A lot of family, a lot of friends have been touched by cancer. We like to support a great cause.” 

Hathaway agreed that the rain made it a little more challenging but said it was still fun.

L’Italien said they will be back next year, and hopefully with team shirts. 

The 10th Annual Dempsey Challenge is scheduled for Sept. 29-30, 2018.

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Patrick Dempsey gives his wife, Jillian, a kiss at the intersection where they parted ways on their respective Dempsey Challenge bike rides in Auburn. Jillian opted for the 10-mile loop with son Sullivan, on the left, as Patrick continued on the 25-mile course with his son Darby.

Patrick Dempsey starts his bike ride on Sunday as part of the Dempsey Challenge.Moments before the start of the Dempsey Challenge on Sunday, cyclists line up under the starting banners in Lewiston.

Dempsey twin sons Darby and Sullivan, right, share a moment as their parents, Jillian and Patrick Dempsey, address the crowd before the start of the Dempsey Challenge on Sunday morning in Lewiston.

Kevin Inman shares a laugh with Patrick Dempsey before the start of the Dempsey Challenge on Sunday morning in Lewiston. Behind them is Dan Washburn. The two motorcyclists escorted the Dempsey family on their leg of the bike ride.

Patrick Dempsey poses for a selfie with his wife, Jillian, and his national public relations manager, Carmella Petitt, before the start of the bike section of the Dempsey Challenge on Sunday morning in Lewiston.

Patrick Dempsey crosses the pedestrian bridge in Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston at the end of his 25-mile Dempsey Challenge bike ride Sunday.

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