LEWISTON — Right now, actor Patrick Dempsey is everywhere.
On the cover of “People” magazine. Chatting with Jimmy Kimmel on late-night TV. Sharing the spotlight with other famous TV doctors in a popular commercial. Starring in the long-awaited movie “Bridget Jones’s Baby” that opened Friday.
And soon, he’ll be in our backyard.
The 8th annual Dempsey Challenge will kick off in two weeks, with Dempsey, the local-boy-turned-TV-star in town to champion — and raise money for — the Lewiston cancer center that bears his family’s name.
The two-day event will feature food, music, beer, children’s activities, bike rides, runs and walks.
Oh, and a few other famous people, too. Just in case the former Dr. McDreamy doesn’t happen to be your everything.
Growing and changing
Founded in 2008, the now-official Dempsey Center — then called The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing — was created in partnership with Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston to help cancer patients and their families. It continues to provide free support, education and complementary therapies, such as massage, regardless of where one comes from or which hospital patients receive cancer treatment.
Dempsey and his siblings helped found the center in honor of their mother, Amanda Dempsey, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1997. Amanda would battle the disease for 17 years. She died in 2014 at the age of 79.
“We’ve gone through . . . a big cycle of what it means to have someone in your family affected by cancer and this is part of that journey,” Dempsey told the Sun Journal months after his mother’s death and shortly before the Dempsey Challenge in 2014.
The first Dempsey Challenge was held in 2009, a year after the center was founded. It quickly became the center’s largest fundraiser and one of the biggest events in Lewiston-Auburn.
Last year, the Dempsey Challenge drew nearly 4,000 participants from 35 states and six countries. They raised over $1.2 million for the center.
“It’s not going to do research. It’s to help people get through (cancer). And you can get through it,” said Edward Little High School teacher Karen Boucher, whose Dempsey Challenge team, the PT Red Eddies, routinely raises over $30,000 each year.
Organizers expect a similar turnout this year, with 3,500 to 4,000 participants, 1,000 volunteers and about 2,000 spectators.
“The way the community has rallied around the event and supported it, even eight years in, is really special, and I think a great testament to the L-A community,” said Aimee Labbe, development manager for the Dempsey Center.
Another reason for the challenge’s success: Patrick Dempsey.
The actor, who was born in Lewiston and grew up in Buckfield, has been a visible champion of both the center and its annual fundraiser. He attends the Dempsey Challenge every year, not only drawing fans to the event but also helping to bring in other celebrity participants — who, in turn, draw more people.
For those who want to see the star, Dempsey will be involved in ceremonies both Saturday, Oct. 1 and Sunday, Oct. 2, including the start of the 5K run/walk, 10K run/walk and bike rides. He’ll be at the survivor walk Saturday and will deliver a thank-you speech at the Entertainment Stage that morning. He’ll also appear at the closing ceremonies on Sunday.
Dempsey will also join one of the bike rides, but organizers don’t yet know which one.
“And of course, you never know when he may take a stroll through the festival,” Labbe said.
For sports fans, at least five professional athletes are slated to attend the Dempsey Challenge this year: NASCAR champion Bobby Labonte and cyclists Jens Voigt, “Fast Freddie” Rodriguez, Amber Pierce and Katie Hall.
While the basics of the Dempsey Challenge remain the same for 2016 — at its heart, participants pay an entry fee and raise at least $150 each to join the weekend’s distance runs, walks or bike rides — there have been changes this year. Some subtle, others more obvious.
Both the center and its fundraiser underwent a “re-branding” this summer, giving the center a new name (it’s simply the Dempsey Center now) and new circular logo. The Dempsey Challenge got a new, simplified logo that drops the old bicycle wheel in favor of two parallel lines.
The Dempsey Challenge will have a different venue layout and a different event finish line, one that brings participants to the side of the Androscoggin River.
“We’re going to have a really nice seating area down there and our finish line stage (will be) right on the water, which will be nice,” Labbe said. “The city has made so many improvements down at the (Simard-Payne Memorial) park, we wanted to take advantage of that.”
A larger public festival will accompany the fundraiser on both Saturday and Sunday, with live music, food trucks, a health and wellness expo, a beer garden and children’s activities.
“Ultimately we want to grow the festival. I think a lot of people in the community maybe think you have to be a participant or a volunteer to participate in the festival,” Labbe said. “It’s free, it’s family friendly and it’s open to the whole public and the whole community.”
The public will also get additional opportunities to check out the Dempsey Center this year, which will host open houses on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, rather than just Friday.
“There are so many people that come from out of town that are here that weekend, and a lot of times they’re not here during the day Friday,” Labbe said. “So we wanted them to be able to come up and see the space and get a tour and better understand what we’re doing.”
Go and do
Want to participate? There’s still time. Participants can register onsite right up until the start of each run/walk or bike ride, including the fun run for kids on Saturday and a two-mile family bike ride on Sunday.
Want to volunteer? There’s still time for that, too. Volunteers help with a variety of tasks, including venue set-up, serving food, staffing rest stops and cheering on participants. For more information or to register, visit DempseyCenter.org.
Want to attend (and maybe see a famous face or two)? The festival part of the weekend is free and open to the public, as are some of the events.
“It’s community that comes together, and it doesn’t matter who you are or how old you are or any of that. Everyone is there for the same purpose and for the same cause. You really see Lewiston-Auburn become a community that weekend,” Boucher said. “I think that’s the best part for me.”
All over the place now. Here in two weeks
Dempsey Challenge schedule
All takes place at Simard-Payne Memorial Park unless noted.
Friday, Sept. 30:
Noon to 7 p.m.: Packet pickup for all participants. To avoid lines the morning of the events, participants are encouraged to pick up packets during this time.
Noon to 1 p.m.: Meet Jens Voigt at the L.L.Bean Bike, Boat and Ski Store in Freeport
Noon to 4 p.m.: Open house at the Dempsey Center, 29 Lowell St., Lewiston, 5th floor.
Noon to 7 p.m.: Official merchandise tent open
Saturday, Oct. 1:
6 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Official merchandise tent open
6:45 a.m.: Opening ceremonies led by Patrick Dempsey at the start stage
7:30 a.m.: 10K Run/Walk
8 a.m.: 5K Run/Walk
8 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Free, family-friendly Festival in the Park, open to the public
9 a.m.: Two-Day Ride cyclists released
9 a.m. to 2 pm: Cyclist packet pickup
10 a.m.: Survivor Walk. New start location for 2016. Visit the Spirit of Hope tent at the festival entrance to be directed to the staging area for the walk.
10:15 a.m. (approximate): “Thank You” from Patrick Dempsey at the entertainment stage
11 a.m.: Kids’ Fun Run, start stage
11:30 a.m. to 1 pm: Open house at the Dempsey Center, 29 Lowell St., Lewiston, 5th floor
Sunday, Oct. 2:
6 a.m. to 7:15 a.m.: Packet pickup for cyclists
6 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Official merchandise tent open
7 a.m.: Opening ceremonies led by Patrick Dempsey
7:30 a.m.: Cycling Rides. Cyclists released in waves depending on distance: 100, 70, 50, 25 and 10 miles
7:30 a.m.: Family Ride and Vivian St. Onge Memorial Rickshaw Project riders depart immediately following release of 10-mile riders
8 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Festival in the Park continues
9:30 a.m. to whenever the last rider arrives: Lobster Trap (need ticket to enter) and Finish Line Beer Garden (open to the public)
10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dempsey Challenge Music Festival
11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Open house at the Dempsey Center, 29 Lowell St., Lewiston, 5th floor
4 p.m.: Closing ceremonies led by Patrick Dempsey, entertainment stage
4:15 p.m.: After-party with live music in the Finish Line Beer Garden
In the fall of 1980, Patrick Dempsey was just a Buckfield High School freshman with a too-cute smile and a let-me-show-you-what-I-can-do attitude. Then he showed the world what he could do. He could do movies. He could do television. He could make hearts throb. He could race cars. And, perhaps most importantly, he could help victims of cancer.
In 2008, he founded the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing in Lewiston, now called simply the Dempsey Center. It provides free support, education and wellness services to anyone affected by cancer. The next year, Dempsey helped create the Dempsey Challenge — a weekend fundraiser for the Dempsey Center.
This year is a good one for Dempsey. He’s back with his wife, Jillian. He co-stars with Renee Zellweger in “Bridget Jones’s Baby.” He’s hitting the talk-show circuit to promote the movie that hit theaters Sept. 16. He’s on magazine covers and in TV commercials. And he’s returning to Maine at the end of September for this year’s Dempsey Challenge.
To help you prepare for Patrick Dempsey’s homecoming, we’re sharing the coverage of how he’s juggling celebrity and charity.
Check our special page for more news about Patrick Dempsey’s celebrity and charitable work.
The Dempsey watch: Catch a glance
Hoping to see
? His scheduled appearances during Dempsey Challenge weekend include:
* 6:45 a.m. Saturday: Opening ceremonies at the start stage
* 10:15 a.m. (approximately) Saturday: Thank-you speech at the entertainment stage
* 7 a.m. Sunday: Opening ceremonies at the start stage
* Sunday morning: Joining one of the bike rides (still to be announced)
* 4 p.m. Sunday: Closing ceremonies at the entertainment stage
All the scheduled appearances above will take place at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston.
The Dempsey Challenge: At a glance
Why: The annual fundraiser helps the Dempsey Center, a program affiliated with Central Maine Medical Center that provides support, education and complementary therapies to cancer patients and their families for free.
When: Most events take place Saturday, Oct. 1, and Sunday, Oct. 2.
Where: Simard-Payne Memorial Park, Oxford Street, Lewiston.
Cost: The Dempsey Challenge is free to attend. Participants who want to walk, run or ride in one of the events must pay an entry free and fund-raise a minimum amount ($150 for adults) to benefit the Dempsey Center.
FMI: Visit DempseyCenter.org