LEWISTON — For Celia Gould, “D.C.” does not stand for Dempsey Challenge. It means “defeat cancer.”

More than 13 years ago, she fought her own battle with breast cancer and won. She has been in remission ever since.

But on Sunday, she rode 25 miles in memory of her dear friend Hannah Sprague, who died of cancer in July.

“I wished for a miracle for Hannah and hoped she could join me in the survivors’ club, but she was destined for another path,” Gould wrote on her Dempsey Challenge fundraising page. “She taught us the importance of levity and to believe in one’s convictions. It was a joy and our pleasure to have known Hannah.”

Gould and hundreds of others from across Maine and beyond gathered Sunday at Simard-Payne Memorial Park for the second day of the 13th annual Dempsey Challenge. Participants had the choice of completing 25-, 50-, 60- or 100-mile bike rides, followed by an afternoon of food, craft beer, live music and a live viewing of the Patriots game on the big screen.

Not even the morning rain could dampen participants’ and volunteers’ spirits.

“My favorite part about doing this ride in the rain is everybody is still in a good mood. Nobody cares that it’s raining,” said Sandy Ward, a friend of Gould.

Ward has participated in the event every year since 2012.

Cindi Smith, the third member of their team, “Treasured Chests,” has a big reason for participating. She too rode in memory of Sprague, but also for several of her immediate family who are cancer survivors. Her mother, two of her sisters and her sister-in-law have beaten breast cancer. Her mother had also battled lung cancer and won.

“I do this for them,” she said.

Debbie Rancourt participated in the 5K run/walk Saturday and the 25-mile ride Sunday in honor of her cousin and best friend, Lynn Lenhert, who died of cancer earlier this year.

“If they can face the challenge of cancer, I can face the challenge of (these) two days,” Rancourt said.

Each year, the Dempsey Challenge bicycle ride draws many participants, from professional cyclists to people who have never done 25 miles in one ride.

This year was Charlie Cianciolo’s first participating in the Dempsey Challenge. Months ago, someone close to him was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Since then, several members of his family have turned to the Dempsey Center for help.

“The Dempsey Center has been fantastic with helping my family members get through some of the things they’re going through and offering support,” Cianciolo said. “That’s what brings me here: Just to make sure I can do my part because of how expensive it is to treat everything, and just make sure people are getting free supports that they need.”

At the afternoon award ceremony Saturday, Patrick Dempsey announced this year’s Dempsey Challenge had raised a record $1.3 million for the Dempsey Center. Thanks to donations from corporate sponsors, all of the money will go to the center.

More than 1,000 people either walked or ran a 5K or 10K on the first day of the Dempsey Challenge.

The Dempsey Challenge is the primary fundraiser for the Dempsey Center, a nonprofit organization based in Lewiston and South Portland that provides no-cost services, such as  fitness classes, massages and counseling, to cancer patients and their families.

Although the 2021 Dempsey Challenge weekend ended Sunday, fundraising will continue into October in an effort to reach the $1.5 million goal.

Loren Goodridge, chief executive officer of Aroma Joe’s, said people can also support the Dempsey Center by grabbing a free coffee from Aroma Joe’s this Wednesday in celebration of National Coffee Day. For every coffee given away, the company plans to donate $1. The donations are in addition to all of the proceeds earned from Aroma Joe’s food truck at the Dempsey Challenge weekend.

For more information on the Dempsey Challenge or the work of the Dempsey Center in Lewiston, visit dempseycenter.org.

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