LEWISTON — Patrick Dempsey may be faster when he is racing his Porsche instead of pedaling a bicycle, but speed was not the priority Sunday morning on the final day of the Dempsey Challenge.

“I’ve trained a little bit. Will I be as fast as the pros this year? No, but we’ll have a good ride,” Dempsey said, “For me, it’s about getting my family together and riding with old friends – rolling along this beautiful Maine countryside.”

A Buckfield native, the actor, producer and race car driver said he was happy to be back in Lewiston-Auburn, reconnecting with friends, including Dennis Richardson of Turner.

Sullivan Dempsey waits for the start of the Dempsey Challenge cycling event at Simard-Payne Park in Lewiston on Sunday. Sullivan and his twin brother, Darby, rode with their father, Patrick Dempsey. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

In 2014, on the day of Dempsey’s mother’s funeral, Richardson was challenged by Dempsey to quit smoking and ride his bike at the Dempsey Challenge. Dempsey’s mother, Amanda, died of cancer, and her early battle with it was Dempsey’s inspiration for starting the Dempsey Center in 2008.

Richardson rode Sunday alongside the Dempsey family.

Dempsey said the friendly faces made him feel at home, and he noted the positive changes he has seen in the Twin Cities over the years.

“This city has changed a lot in a positive way,” Dempsey said. “I was just talking with the mayor about what we can do to keep bringing more jobs and industry to the revitalization of downtown here to get these wheels going.”

Dempsey said for all the support the Dempsey Center provides the community through free services to those with cancer and their families, the community keeps the Dempsey Center going.

“We’re thriving and surviving because of the communities’ support,” he said. And, Dempsey added, each year the Challenge and the Dempsey Center have grown.

After Dempsey and his family took off in the VIP group Sunday morning, waves of riders — 900 in total — started their rides through the surrounding countryside, with goals ranging from a few miles to 100 miles.

Many of the riders have a story.

This year, Bianca Gonzalez’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. She turned to the Dempsey Center for help. She said it was an incredible resource.

“The Dempsey Center is one of the best organizations in the state of Maine that helps with the programs for families and the patients themselves, whether it’s therapy, donations, medical bills, everything,” said Gonzalez, of Gray. “I went there personally when my mom was diagnosed.”

Cancer survivor Jeannie Pelletier, right, of Auburn cheers with a group of family and friends as cyclists roll down Riverside Drive during the Dempsey Challenge on Sunday. From left are: Claire Feeney of Westbrook, Dianne Markowski of Cumberland, Del Levesque of Lewiston and Pelletier. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Gonzalez said she participated in the ride last year to support the center’s mission.

“This year is more personal: My mom was diagnosed with cancer,” she said. “This one is for her.”

Three miles into her goal of riding 25 miles Sunday, Jaime Mennealy got a flat tire. As she waited for a volunteer to fix her bike, she was in good spirits.

“I think it’s super inspirational. The ride’s beautiful,” said Mennealy, who said she splits her time between Lewiston-Auburn and L.A. on the West Coast.

“Obviously, I got a flat tire. But everyone out there is having a great time. The support from the community is awesome. They’re all great people on the road.”

After they complete the course, participants in the ride are treated to lobster provided by the Lobster Trap. Live bands were scheduled to perform all day at Lewiston’s Simard-Payne Memorial Park. Top Challenge fundraisers were celebrated at 2 p.m.

As of early Sunday, $1.2 million had been raised for the Dempsey Center, according to officials. That number was expected to increase before the end of the Challenge on Sunday afternoon.

To Patrick Dempsey, such community support — in terms of participation and fundraising — proves the Dempsey Center is necessary.

“Now we’re 11 years in, and more and more people have come through (the center), fortunately or unfortunately,” he said. “They’ve gotten the support, and it’s our mission to make sure that we reach as many people in the state of Maine as possible.”

At the end of the weekend, Nancy Audet, communications manager for the Dempsey Center, said nine people had raised more than $10,000 and “about 40 or so” had raised $3,000 or more.

Those people were invited to a private event Sunday afternoon at the Dempsey Center, Audet said, where they were recognized for their fundraising efforts.

The top fundraiser for the 2019 Dempsey Challenge was David Gervais of Lewiston.

Gervais has raised more than $100,000 since the event began, and is known locally as “Top Dollar Dave” for his fundraising prowess.

Audet said the top youth fundraiser of the 2019 Dempsey Challenge was Ethan Helie, who raised about $5,000.

A group from New England Cancer Specialists and members of the Bates College field hockey team cheer for cyclists along the 25-mile route in Durham on Sunday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

 

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