LEWISTON – It wasn’t just the athletic challenges that sent heart rates racing at The Dempsey Challenge over the weekend.

The presence of the event’s founder, Patrick Dempsey, seemed to raise the crowd’s collective pulse rate as well.

The actor, a Maine native who plays Dr. Derek Shepherd, aka “Dr. McDreamy,” on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” worked the crowds who showed up for the fundraiser at Simard-Payne Memorial Park.

On Sunday, Laura Fissette of New Sharon was torn between looking for glimpses of the television actor and issuing last-minute instructions from the sidelines to her daughter, Molly, and two friends waiting next to their bikes.

“He’s on my Facebook page,” said Fissette, waving a camera.

Fissette was one of hundreds of spectators who cheered on the star and the nearly 4,000 bicyclists who participated in the Dempsey Challenge fundraiser.

The two-day event started Saturday with 5K and 10K runs and walks and concluded Sunday with 10-, 25-, 50-, 70- and 100-mile bike rides.

As thousands of bikers took their places at the starting gate soon after sunup Sunday, Dempsey took the stage to get their adrenaline pumping.

“Stay hydrated, look out for each other and take time to smell the flowers,” Dempsey said.

Hundreds of riders aimed their cameras at their celebrity cheerleader while others sent up wild applause.

Surrounded by a crowd of elite bicyclists, including Tom Danielson, Levi Leipheimer and Davis and Connie Phinney, Dempsey set out on the 50-mile ride.

Now in its third year, the event was founded by Dempsey. Last year, participants raised $1.1 million for The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing at Central Maine Medical Center.

This year’s tally was expected to be just under that, said Aimee Arsenault, event manager.

The excitement inside Central Maine Medical Center was rising as the medical staff waited for the first riders to finish, but not because of any medical emergency.

“We love that he plays a doctor. He is a Mainer, and he is great for us,” said Mae Audibert of Poland, a paramedic in the medical center.

Dr. Alicia Koteles, a former resident at CMMC, drove up from Connecticut to help out.

“I have quoted many lines from ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ during my residency,” Koteles said.

Many of the participants had personal experiences with cancer. Donna Morin of Greene was joined by about a dozen family members to raise money in memory of her husband, Ron, who died of melanoma 10 years ago.

Sporting a bright yellow shirt with a photo of her late husband, Morin said she had been approached by a number of his former co-workers at TD Banknorth.

“People I don’t know came up to remember him,” Morin said.

Rachel Devereaux of Brunswick rode with a group of work friends.

“This is a physical challenge and a personal goal,” Devereaux said.

Andrea Smith of Brunswick waited toward the end of the line, still undecided how far she would go.

“I am here because of a very enthusiastic group of people in Brunswick, and I am sensitive to issues about cancer,” Smith said.

Less than an hour after the start, riders began to arrive at the finish line, where spectators urged them on with cowbells and cheers.

Morin’s daughter, Kristen Morin, was among the first over the line.

“It was a really nice ride. I feel great,” Morin said. 

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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