LEWISTON — Despite the morning rain, Dempsey Challenge organizers pronounced the second day of the event a success, as hundreds of cyclists braved the weather for the early-morning bike trek and thousands of visitors packed Simard-Payne Memorial Park to cheer on the bikers, listen to live music and participate in the final day’s events.
“Look what we’re doing together. Look what this community can do. There’s nothing that can stop us if we put our minds to it. And the beautiful thing is that everybody’s heart is open,” Challenge namesake Patrick Dempsey told the crowd gathered for the closing ceremony at about 3:30 p.m.
Sunday’s activities began at 6:45 a.m., when local radio hosts Dave Winsor and Michelle Taylor took to the Oxford Street stage. Cyclists participating in the fundraising rides — Sunday’s major activity — began assembling in front of the stage. Participants were required to raise at least $150, though many raised significantly more.
Teams participating in Sunday’s bike treks tended to be smaller than the teams of walkers and runners who came out for Saturday’s 5K and 10K activities. There were also fewer participants in general, though it was likely a result of the weather, according to Mark Turcotte, communications specialist for the Dempsey Challenge.
Those who did participate in Sunday’s bike treks were, by and large, experienced riders. Janet Guidi of Harrison has been riding for several years and did the 50-mile trek on Sunday. You don’t have to be a professional to do the trek, she said, “but you do have to train.”
Eight of the cyclists taking part on Sunday were true professionals.
“I think it’s safe to say that Patrick attracts a lot of the women here ... but for a lot of the hard-core cyclists to know these (professionals) are coming and to have a chance to participate and ride with them, I think it’s a dream come true,” Turcotte said.
Alison Tetrick, a professional cyclist who splits her time between Boise, Ida., and San Anselmo, Calif., was waiting for the trek to begin in the VIP staging area, where pro riders, Patrick Dempsey and those biking along with him began the ride.
“It’s a really good cause to come out here and support Patrick and the cycling community. So we’re very happy to be here,” Tetrick said.
But not all the riders were pros.
Laird Covey of Poland, the president of Central Maine Medical Center, has participated in the fundraising bike rides since they began in 2009. Though not a professional, he was preparing for the 50-mile trek.
“I just love riding with these guys. Part of what makes this event so special is, obviously Patrick, but also having the pros here and all the fundraisers.”
Before hopping on his specialized racing bike, Dempsey gave some advice and encouragement to the damp riders. “Ride safely. Watch out for all the painted stuff. That’s really slick,” he said. “Take care of each other. ... Cycling is great, no matter the weather. Everybody looks good all bundled up.”
The cyclists were released in waves: first Dempsey, the pros and VIPs, then the 100-milers, then the 70-milers and so on. While the routes varied depending on the distance, all the cyclists began their treks by riding down Oxford Street, crossing the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge and continuing south out Riverside Drive.
The wind, rain and chilly temperatures made cycling uncomfortable, according to many riders. However, the poor weather also revealed the resolve and dedication of the event’s participants.
“It’s about more than a ride. It means so much to people to participate in this event and to get across the finish line. And a little rain isn’t going to stop them,” Turcotte said.
While the longer treks led riders as far away as Otisfield and Bridgton, all the routes converged in downtown Auburn and concluded by crossing the Auburn Riverlands Bridge and entering Simard-Payne Memorial Park.
Riders began streaming across the finish line around 8:30 a.m. and a steady flow continued until the closing ceremonies, when the 100-milers were finishing up.
A lunch of lobster, corn and potatoes awaited riders. Throughout the day, food and drinks were available in the park, as well as biking equipment, health supplements and other wares being sold or given away by various vendors. On a large music stage set up near the center of the park, the Oncotones entertained the crowd. The band is comprised of health care workers who come together to play at fundraisers and benefits.
The Dempsey Challenge concluded with closing ceremonies at 3:30 p.m. on the music stage.
“What a great day, huh?” Dempsey asked the excited crowd. “It’s so great coming home. It’s amazing here, the spirit in this city. And the event keeps growing and growing.”
According to event officials, this year’s Dempsey Challenge was the largest to date in terms of participation and money raised. By the end of the day on Sunday, more than $1.1 million had been raised by 4,294 participants for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing. That tally did not include cash and checks donated over the weekend.
“My mother-in-law is a four-time cancer survivor,” said Phyllis Rand of Lewiston, when asked why she was participating. “It’s not a race. It’s a ride. There’s lots of support.”
Pauline Moreau, also of Lewiston, did the 25-mile trek. This was her fourth Dempsey Challenge. She said it was important to prepare for the weather and to do some training. “I’m a recreational cyclist. I’m not about going fast,” she said.
When she started doing the Dempsey Challenge in 2009, she didn’t know anyone affected by cancer. She started doing the challenge as an alternative to the Trek Across Maine, a springtime biking benefit. “But as the years have gone on, I’ve known people. In fact a very close friend of mine passed away in January from skin cancer,” she said.
“I’ve got to believe the majority of cyclists (here) know people affected by cancer,” she said. “Cancer is so prevalent in our society.”