LEWISTON — Patrick Dempsey didn’t mind slowing down as he rode the 50-mile course in the Dempsey Challenge. He did so a few dozen times Sunday to listen to another story about a friend or family touched by cancer, or to hear a new goal for better health.

And the Mainers all along the rural routes and farm roads shared their stories readily with the well-known actor and Maine native.

Those stories are why Dempsey came for the second straight year to champion the fundraiser he created that helps those touched by cancer to get stronger, and to see that message of hope grow louder.

“This really is joyous and hopeful, by the

“By awareness he’s created and the enormous financial contribution of the Center for Hope and Healing, even the name of his center, it’s so optimistic. It gives you the message that you’re not alone,” said Pam Lawrason of Cumberland, who was riding in honor of her son, brother and father, all of whom battled cancer.

The second annual fundraiser surpassed last year’s turnout of 3,000, drawing 4,172 participants in the walk, run and cycle events. And it topped last year’s fundraising total of $1.1 million to help the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing, although part of the money goes to pay expenses, as 31 percent did last year.

However, it was the communal spirit participants spoke about, a mood that permeated the two-day event that began with a 5K and 10K run and walk on Saturday, included two festivals and kicked off with a rally at Gritty McDuff’s brewery in Auburn.

Dempsey even came out to bartend for that.

In fact, what cyclists experienced Sunday with some disbelief was how genuine and caring Dempsey appeared when meeting them for the first time.

“A lot of celebrities just put their names on things, but you can tell that his heart and soul is into it. He obviously loves the people, and we love him. This is a great opportunity for us to show our support for what he’s trying to do,” said John Cordts of Lisbon after Dempsey signed his jersey at a rest stop.

From the start to the finish of the 50-mile course, Dempsey stopped to greet, hug and talk to the spectators who lined much of the route. He rode alongside strangers to ask them how far they were riding.

At the Elm Street School rest stop in Poland, he singled out four women dressed as the Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion characters from “The Wizard of Oz” to pay tribute to their spirited welcome.

“Thanks for your support. You guys look great,” Dempsey boomed as they snapped photos.

Then he reassured them their photos would turn out.

“There are about 15 cameras pointing at us. I think you’ll be fine,” Dempsey cracked.

Dempsey said he was moved by the poignant and remarkable individual stories from people throughout the course.

Like Matt White, whose father died of a heart attack three weeks ago while training for the Dempsey Challenge. Dempsey rode up alongside White after seeing the memorial card under the man’s bike seat, and he spent more than 20 minutes talking to the Livermore Falls man.

“I’m here because my father died while he was training on this, his bike, this very bike. And this was his challenge: to complete this.

“And my goal today is to do exactly what his goal was: to help people who are in need. And I’ll carry me and my dad over the finish line,” said White, who rode with his father’s ashes in a knapsack on his back.

Even the professional riders who came to support the cause — Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner and former pro Kevin Livingston — were in awe of the camaraderie, the caring and even the fun the event inspired.

An Olympic bronze medalist and eight-time Tour de France competitor, Leipheimer said he has ridden other charity rides, but the Dempsey Challenge is a bit different.

“It’s incredible to see the support, and to hear the individual stories, both last night and today. I think that’s what stands out — all the individual stories you hear,” Leipheimer said. 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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