In just its third year, the Dempsey Challenge continues to grow in what it offers cyclists and runners, and event organizers are hoping the number of participants will climb as well.

Just like last year, it will be a two-day event with a run/walk, several cycling routes, festivities in Police Memorial Park in Lewiston and professional cyclists participating to encourage good fitness.

And like last year, a minimum fundraising goal of $150 is required along with the entry fees.

But based on feedback from last year, several parts of the event have changed, and that evolution will continue with the goal of growing the event, said event manager Aimee Arsenault.

Participation last year fell just shy of 5,000. This year the event is capped at 6,500.

New this year are a youth fundraiser, a 70-mile bike route and an omelet festival for the runners and walkers.

The youth initiative, a collaboration with the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth in Lebanon, N.H., is aimed at starting philanthropy early. Funds raised by participants age 23 and under will be matched up to $100,000 by a grant, Arsenault said.

The initiative also challenges youths to dress up as their favorite superheroes, and adults can encourage the youths’ fundraising by wearing superhero costumes as well. Event founder Patrick Dempsey will wear a cape to support the effort.

The 70-mile route was added to the cycle event to accommodate folks who want more of a challenge than the 50-mile course.

“The 100 is grueling. I think some people felt there was a little hole there, and they needed a steppingstone between the 50 and 100 so they could work their way up,” Arsenault said.

And a hospitality tent for runners and walkers has been added for the morning of Oct. 8, to complement the after-cycle lobster bake on Oct. 9.

In the breakfast tent, volunteer chefs from Lewiston Regional Technical Center will make omelets to order, with food donated by Hannaford, to help keep the event local.

“Some of the feedback we’ve gotten is that runners and walkers maybe haven’t gotten as much attention or felt as special,” Arsenault said. “They do constitute more than half of our participants, we wanted to make sure they’re acknowledged.”

The strong contingent of pro cyclists helps raise awareness and increase enthusiasm about the event.

Levi Leipheimer will return, and be joined by Tom Danielson, who placed ninth overall in the Tour De France this year, and by retired pros Davis and Connie Phinney. Davis is an Olympic bronze medalist and Connie is a gold medalist. And having women pro cyclists at the event has been a goal of the Challenge from the start, Arsenault said.

The $150 minimum pledge required last year helped push the funds raised from $500,000 in 2009 to $1.1 million in 2010, with all the participant-raised money going to the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing in Lewiston.

The hope is to grow the fundraising as well.

The sponsorships and donated produce and goods, as well as the registration fees, go to the cost of running the event, about $500,000 over the two days, Arsenault said.

“So much product is donated, everything for the hospitality tents. The lobsters are not donated, but given at a great discount, and the fruit, yogurt and water,” Arsenault said.

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

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