While watching from the relative comfort of my recliner as another Dempsey Challenge was entered into the Lewiston-Auburn history books, I couldn’t help but think how lucky we are.

Not because we receive annual, in-the-flesh visits from the affable actor. I mean, hey, Patrick seems like a true gentleman, and I guess he’s a good-looking dude if you’re into that sort of thing.

Until somebody positively identifies a resurrected Jesus, Ronald Reagan or Stevie Ray Vaughan walking around the Twin Cities, however, you won’t see a star-struck me. I couldn’t quote one line from McDreamy, McFilthy, McNasty or whatever the Dempsey character’s name is. Heck, I can’t even remember which medical show it is. There are so doggone many of them. St. Elsewhere?

We’re blessed because a man of Dempsey’s persona, influence and resources thinks enough of the place that provided the foundation of his formative years to repay and remember us. The weakest and neediest among us, at that.

If that seems like common courtesy and basic goodness to you, congratulations, because you approach life with less cynicism and a higher view of your fellow man than I. The world is crawling with people — in Hollywood, in Washington, in the clubhouse of your favorite professional sports team — who appear to have forgotten from whence they came.

Dempsey is an exception, and those of us who love, and live in, the tri-county region he once called home are infinitely richer for it.

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And it isn’t merely about the money (more than $1 million each of the past two years) that Dempsey helped us raise for cancer treatment by generously donating his time, name and face to the cause. The homegrown hero has done wonders for this community in so many related ways.

He has given cancer victims hope. The battle against this damnable disease is as much mental and psychological as physical. The strength in numbers Dempsey has delivered the thousands embroiled in this fight is a lifesaver in itself.

Also, the tie-in of cycling and distance running to the event has encouraged old, fat, sedentary people to become fitter, more active people. I spent too much of my early adult life becoming the former, so how can that not be near and dear to my heart?

The evidence that being closer to an ideal weight can reduce our risk of many types of cancer is volumes deep. If being accomplished enough to run 5 or 10 kilometers or bike 50 or 100 miles doesn’t supply us with a better hand in that game of chance, perhaps it reduces our risk of heart disease. Or maybe it just gives us more energy to celebrate this only day we’re promised with our loved ones.

If nothing else, Dempsey has brought scores of us together in a time when the cares of the world are more likely to divide us. Through his noble and sincere devotion to Maine and its people, he also has taught us, by example, to be proud of this place we call home.

Maine, and specifically L-A, get an often undeserved bad rap. Maybe it’s cold. Maybe there are geographic and economic barriers, real and man-made. Maybe our level of civic discourse sometimes sets the gold standard of embarrassment. But it’s still a splendid place to live, work, raise a family and grow old; to learn how to ride a bike or how to become an actor.

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It’s special when the few among us who have reached the pinnacle take the time to come back and remind us the value of dreaming big, whether that dream is to be a leading man in television and film or simply to live until the next Christmas or the next family wedding.

Our sports heroes always have been pretty good at that.

I think of a basketball camp four years ago at which University of Maine at Farmington alumnus and Aroostook County native Steve Clifford was the keynote clinician. He spent hours conducting drills, schooling the kids with the salty language you might expect from a lifer in the coaching industry. Then came the speech not-so-subtly reminding the young athletes that the other 49 states didn’t have a monopoly on the benefits of hard work.

Clifford is now head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats, one of two Mainers promoted to that level this past offseason. Brett Brown of South Portland and the Philadelphia 76ers was the other.

Seth Wescott returns from every Olympic or World Cup gold medal to run his business at Sugarloaf and school the aspiring snowboarders at Carrabassett Valley Academy. He’s as accessible to them as the stock boy within reach of that tomato can at your grocery store.

Troy Barnies returns from Turkey, Finland, Latvia, or wherever else his travels as a professional basketball player have taken him to inspire the next generation at local summer basketball camps.

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Ricky Craven. Mike Bordick. Charlie Furbush. Mark Rogers. Patrick Dempsey. They made it, and then they made good on their debt to the unique, unlikely source of their talents.

California and Texas might have more square miles and bigger bank accounts, but they don’t inspire that level of brand loyalty.

We are lucky. So very, very lucky.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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