LEWISTON — Katie Somers has been participating in the Dempsey Challenge Survivor Walk for more years than she can remember and for her, it’s always been a solemn occasion. 

This year? A little more solemn, still. 

“I was just diagnosed last year with breast cancer,” the 39-year-old Turner woman said, “and finished radiation in February. The walk has a different meaning for me now. It’s a little weird to me. It’s still very fresh.” 

Tina Merritt of Auburn can relate. For many years, the 51-year-old came to walk in support of a friend, Cindy, who had survived cancer. But on Friday night, like Somers, Merritt was walking for herself, as well. 

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer last October and had a double mastectomy in December,” Merritt said, just before the early evening walk got underway. “Now I’m here honoring myself as well as others.” 

By the time the walk had begun, the temperature had dipped below 50 degrees and a bitter wind was blowing across Simard-Payne Memorial Park with an extra cold bite. 


Was it a problem? Not even close. A good many of the hundreds who walked for the event have already grappled with a much greater foe in cancer. 

“What’s a little bit of cold?” asked Craig Dilman, Somers’ father. 

Dilman, like the others, has been taking part in the Dempsey Challenge for many years. He doesn’t suffer with cancer, but that doesn’t mean the dreadful disease has not affected his life. 

“We do it in support of my father, who passed away in 2012,” Dilman said. “We do it for my wife’s father, who passed away in 2013 and for my mother, who passed away from lung cancer back in 1988. Then there are all the aunts, uncles — everybody’s been touched by this.” 

Lorraine Zuma, right, of Lake George, New York, and Becky Allard of Raymond participate Friday in the Dempsey Challenge Survivor Walk at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Hundreds showed up for the Friday night event. Roughly 2,500 people were expected to participate in this year’s challenge. The people gathered at Simard-Payne Memorial Park were fully aware of the significance of the yearly Dempsey Challenge, which honors those affected by cancer and raises money to help survivors and their families. 

Merritt, who has always supported the cause on behalf of others, said her understanding of the importance of the Dempsey Center is deeper now, having experienced it firsthand. 


“It’s a different perspective for sure,” she said. “Since I’ve had it myself now, I really understand what the Dempsey Center can do for others and how much help and support that they provide. They’re an incredible organization.” 

The walk Friday night marked the very beginning of this year’s Dempsey Challenge, which is coming out of a two-year funk thanks to the pandemic and all the disruptions it caused. 

Saturday will be dedicated to walking and running events, beginning at 7:30 a.m., with awards at noon and a Dempsey Center open house from 1 to 3 p.m.  

Sunday will feature bicycling rides with staggered starts for the 10-, 25-, 50-, 65- and 100-mile rides, beginning at 7:30 a.m. Closing ceremonies will take place at 4 p.m. 

The action both days will include all of the usual festivities: live music; a food and beverage tent; the Maine Craft Beer + Wine Garden, which will partner with Baxter Brewing, Side By Each, Gritty’s, Nonesuch River Brewing, Lone Pine Brewing and Stroudwater Distillery; a merchandise tent; a team photo wall; and the Dempsey Center Mission Walk offering information about Dempsey Center programs and services. 

Neither Somers nor Merritt seemed troubled at all by the cold winds blowing in their faces as the Survivor Walk got underway Friday night. They had bundled up, they were in good cheer and both seemed acutely aware that they were lucky to be out on the cold and soggy field at all. 

Above all, they were grateful and ready to walk. 

“This is great,” Somers said. “It’s just an awesome cause.” 

For the full schedule, go to dempseycenter.org. 

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