LEWISTON — More than 1,000 bicycle riders of all ages hit the pavement Sunday morning as the eighth annual Dempsey Challenge rolled toward a million-dollar finish.
Participants actually raised more than $1.2 million, “and counting,” Aimee Labbe, manager of special events and development at the Dempsey Center said at the closing ceremony Sunday afternoon.
Patrick Dempsey closed out the weekend with a speech that was really more of a thank-you.
“I just want to thank all the volunteers — you’ve done a phenomenal job,” he said. “I love being back here in my hometown. It’s just been a spectacular weekend.”
Alicia Hatten and Mary Dempsey, Patrick Dempsey’s sisters, were equally as thankful. “We can’t thank you all enough for what you do for the Dempsey Center so that we can do what we do. The participants, the volunteers, and our sponsors — just, thank you very much,” Mary Dempsey said.
Hatten added, “Every year I come here, I think, ‘This is great and it can’t get any better.’ But guess what? It got better.”
It’s amazing the numbers we’re raising,” Patrick Dempsey said. “It’s phenomenal. There’s nothing we can’t do. This is a tremendous community. I am so proud to have come from here and to return back every year. We’re blessed to be a part of this community.”
He said earlier in the day that Lewiston-Auburn had once again provided “a very warm and welcoming environment” for the weekend fundraising event. He addressed the cyclists from the starting line stage before joining them on the road.
“It’s amazing what this community has done,” actor Patrick Dempsey told the crowd of cyclists at the starting line for rides of 100, 70, 50, 25 and 10 miles.
Dempsey told them that the noncompetitive rides “give everyone a chance to hear each other’s stories as you’re rolling along.” He said the Dempsey Challenge is “very social” and it offers cancer survivors and supporters some unique abilities to communicate.
The actor, known for his former role on ABC-TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” rode with his 9-year-old twin sons and his 14-year-old daughter on parts of the three routes.
The Dempsey Challenge riders ranged from well-tuned athletes on bicycles of the latest technology to youngsters on pint-sized bikes. There were several tandem bikes and at least one young girl set out on the course on a unicycle.
The final group to cross the starting line Sunday morning consisted of several participants in the Vivian St. Onge Memorial Rickshaw Project for supporters or cancer sufferers who are unable to ride a traditional type of bike.
In addition to the routes of 100, 70, 50, 25 and 10 miles, a two-day circuit of about 140 miles was sponsored by L.L. Bean.
A rest stop on Kittyhawk Avenue near the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport buzzed with activity at midmorning Sunday. Dozens of cyclists took on some energy boosts from oranges, bananas and other snacks offered by volunteers at several kiosks. The rest stop also provided some bike tune-up and repair facilities, and a chance to top off tire pressure.
At the Kittyhawk Avenue rest stop, riders were about one-third of the way through the 25-mile course. There, Mary Dempsey, the actor’s sister and community services coordinator for the event, greeted participants.
“It’s off to a great start,” she said as she stopped to take pictures and pose with groups such as the team from Butler Bros., a Lewiston supplier of tools and maintenance products.
John and Laurie Hanley of Keene, N.H. were riding a bicycle built for two. Laurie said this was the first Dempsey Challenge for her and her husband.
“We’re doing the 25-mile ride,” she said. “Next year, we hope to do 50 miles and we hope we can do it with the kids and the in-laws.”
She said they found the routes to be well-marked and the ride “just beautiful.”
Also pausing at that rest stop were Brian Boucher of Auburn and his 9-year-old son, Ethan. It was their fourth Dempsey Challenge, and they were part of a large contingent of relatives and friends from the L-A area. They included Karen Boucher, a teacher at Edward Little High School in Auburn who is leader/adviser of that school’s Positive Tracks unit, youth volunteers whose fundraising total is matched dollar for dollar.
Also in that group were Ella Boucher and Molly Vincent, friends about 13 years old, who have become known as “the cupcake girls.” They expanded their love of cooking and baking into a venture that raised $7,200 for the Dempsey Challenge.
Several other members of that troupe of bikers stood at the roadside holding big signs with only a man’s face. They were doing it in recognition of that man, Tom Armitage of Tenant’s Harbor, a cancer survivor who raised $16,000 and was one of the day’s riders.
Dempsey’s route was not disclosed, but he was expected to stop at a few of the rest stations and spectator cheer locations.
At the large Hartt Transportation Systems terminal about half a mile from the Auburn rest stop, about 100 supporters were expected later in the day to cheer on Dempsey Challenge participants. They were equipped with a music sound system and Poland Spring water. The site was decorated with pumpkins and there were kids’ activities for young ones who came with cheer-volunteer parents.
A major cheer station had been located in past years near the Poland Spring water bottling plant off Route 122. The new Hartt terminal in Auburn offered a more appropriate location, so the two companies agreed to set up this cheer station with its better safety and much greater exposure for riders.
Every dollar raised by the Dempsey Challenge goes to the local cause founded in 2008 by Dempsey, a native of Buckfield, in memory of his mother’s multiple bouts with ovarian cancer. The Dempsey Center is at 29 Lowell St, Lewiston. It provides free support, education and complementary therapies to anyone affected by cancer.
Staff Writer Amanda Cullen contributed to this report.