Shannon Gilmartin raised just over $10,000 for last month’s Dempsey Challenge, earning the spot as the top fundraiser among all individual participants. Her work earned her a private bike ride with Patrick Dempsey the day before the Challenge and a seat at the private pre-ride Champions of Hope gala. But her devotion to the event was not solely to meet Dr. McDreamy.

A number of Gilmartin’s family members, including her grandfathers, a number of aunts and uncles, and an older cousin, died of cancer. Her cousin was in his 20s when he died.

“Cancer is scary,” Gilmartin said, and swift. She’s battling her fear of the disease by doing everything she can to keep herself and her family healthy, but also feels the need to raise money to fund cancer research and awareness.

Gilmartin — who lost 25 pounds during her Challenge training — was registered to ride the full 100-mile cycle event, but was forced to take a shorter 70-mile route when she and her husband, Tom, reached Casco just minutes after the designated 11 a.m. cut-off, a time limit set at the 30-mile mark to make sure all riders returned to Lewiston by 5 p.m. She’s determined that won’t happen again, that she’ll complete the full Century next year and then, annually, thereafter.

This is Gilmartin’s first experience raising money for a cause, although she has participated in a number of Susan Komen Breast Cancer Foundation walks to raise awareness, and she’s determined to best her fundraising total for the 2010 Dempsey Challenge.

Name: Shannon Gilmartin

Age: 35

Hometown: Hamburg, N.Y.

Profession: Stay-at-home Mom of three great kids; Caitlyn, 9, Mara, 8, and Finn, 3

Are you a regular cyclist, or did you have to pull your bike out of a basement corner to meet this challenge? The bike was in the garage for many years before I decided to train for this. Then, after riding my 13-year-old mountain bike for a month or so, my husband bought me a new entry-level road bike for Mother’s Day.

Does your family ride, too? We all do now (my husband, Tom, rode the Dempsey Challenge with me).

How many miles did you log training for the Dempsey Challenge? I just got a bike computer about a month before the ride, so I don’t know exactly, but somewhere in the 2,000-miles range.

When did that training start? In April, the day after I signed up for the Dempsey Challenge

Your quest to be the top fundraiser — was that all about meeting Patrick Dempsey or more about the Dempsey Center’s mission? Or perhaps something else? I actually set the goal just because it was their top fundraising level, and I had no idea how much I could raise. I loved the mission of the Dempsey Center though, and worked hard to get the donations in since it was for such a good cause. Patrick Dempsey was an added bonus.

How in the world did you raise that much money? I asked EVERYONE I knew and many people I didn’t know. Friends, family, collection jars around town, getting donations while my sister and her friend did their variety show in bars, yard sales, selling cakes I made, Twitter, Facebook, “girls night in” fundraiser, my daughters’ school did a dress-down day for it, lots of other stuff.

Do you have tips for others who want to raise money? Never be afraid to ask someone to donate. It is a worthy cause. It’s not like you’re asking someone to give you money so you can go on vacation or buy a new car. You are helping a great cause. If you believe that and are enthusiastic about it, you will receive positive reactions to your requests.

What was the best part of the Oct. 4 ride? I think for me, the best part was seeing all of the survivors and other supporters on the side of the road with their signs thanking everyone for helping out. It brought tears to my eyes more than once.

The hardest? Finding out that we missed the cut-off (in Casco) by just a few minutes and being re-routed to the 70-mile trek.

Be honest. Did you walk up Puke Hill? Yep!

What do you most remember about your private ride with Dempsey and the pros? I guess maybe the beginning of the ride. Pulling out in a small group with pro riders, and of course, Patrick Dempsey, was something that never in my life would I have imagined myself doing.

What’s your favorite Dempsey film? “Can’t Buy Me Love.” I had the poster from it hanging in my locker when I was 13, and have pretty much been a Patrick Dempsey fan since. “Lucky 7” is a close second.

Do you watch Grey’s Anatomy? Um…yeah. Religiously. I even host parties for the premiere and finale. I didn’t start watching until the drowning episodes of Season 3 though.

After meeting Dempsey, what have you told your friends about him? I have told them that I was really amazed at what a down-to-earth, good guy he is. A lot of celebrities have their fame go to their head, but he seems to be such a grounded, family-loving guy who does so much good with his fame, that I really, truly admire him for that more than his acting or racing, even though I am fans of both.

Looking back on the fundraising and the physical work to prepare for the ride, what memory will stay with you the longest? Oh wow, that’s tough. There are so many things from training and fundraising that stick with me, but the phone call I received from Wendy Tardif of the Dempsey Challenge, confirming that I was the top fundraiser and had the most donors was probably the biggest moment for me before actually arriving in Maine. It suddenly all seemed very real. I think I was shaking while I talked to her on the phone.

Will you be back in Lewiston in 2010 for another 100? You betcha! And this time I WILL finish the 100.

Have you set a new fundraising goal? I’d love to beat my total from this year. Maybe I will shoot for $15,000 — so if anyone out there reading this wants to sponsor me next year, you can find me on Twitter @McDreamyBiker.

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