Michele Kelleher, left, of Derry, N.H., and Stacie Pfefferle of Epsom, N.H., carry cancer awareness symbols across the Riverwalk trestle during the Dempsey Challenge run/walk on Saturday in Lewiston. Kelleher walked in memory of her husband, Brian, who died of cancer last October. Pfefferle walked in memory of her mother, Pat, who died of cancer in May 2018. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Have you ever heard Patrick Dempsey beat-box?

Kindly, the well-known actor may want to stick to his day job.

But that was all right with the crowd as the 2019 Dempsey Challenge got rolling early Saturday morning.

A large group of runners and walkers who gathered at Simard-Payne Memorial Park were treated to a few seconds of beats by the Buckfield native before he handed the mic to the Bates College Crosstones a cappella group, which performed the national anthem.

At 7:30 a.m., runners and walkers for the 10k got started, and half an hour later participants in the 5k run and walk left the gate, with Dempsey himself leading the charge.

All money raised by participants in the Dempsey Challenge goes back to the Dempsey Center, a Lewiston-based organization offering a variety of free services for people and their families affected by cancer. It was established by Patrick Dempsey in honor of his mother, Amanda, who died of cancer.

Performer Randy Judkins of Portland has his picture taken with Patrick Dempsey during the Dempsey Challenge in Lewiston on Saturday. Judkins has known Dempsey since the actor was 13 years old and living in Maine. Judkins said he took Dempsey to a national juggling convention in Cleveland, where Dempsey placed second in the junior competition. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Val and Alexandra Morton of Rumford pressed up against a back fence as Dempsey came behind the stage after the kickoff. Calling out to him, they were honored with a selfie. Proclaimed Dempsey mega-fans, the sisters said seeing Dempsey was an added bonus, but the real reason they were at the challenge Saturday was to support the Dempsey Center, they said.

“We’ve had a lot of friends and family that have gone through the Dempsey (Center) and home care and hospice. It cares for the family, and not just for the patient. And that is something you can’t get anywhere. You just walk through the door. There’s not a bill from the Dempsey Center,” Alexandra Morton said.

Val Morton said walking the challenge brought up many bittersweet emotions.

“We’re walking for the people who can’t,” she said.

Sober moments cut through the festive banter. Ushering in a moment of silence, Dempsey brought light to the many cancer victims who weren’t there.

“There’s a lot of people that are not with us right now, as we know,” he said. “There’s a lot of people we’ll be running for, and we’ll be thinking about.”

Cathy Brownridge of Lewiston knows that truth well. An 11-year participant of the challenge, this year was different. This year, her uncle and father were both diagnosed with kidney cancer.

Brownridge’s uncle died six weeks after he was diagnosed. Donning a shirt that read “Kidney cancer is a real pisser,” Brownridge said she was walking in his memory.

Her father was also walking, as a survivor. His cancer was caught early, and largely by accident, after he was in a car crash last October.

“They found it only by accident and it saved his life. He would have been gone by Christmas,” Brownridge said.

She added that the Dempsey Center has played a huge role in her family’s recovery.

“I’ve had so many friends and family members that have all needed this center, and without this center, I don’t know what they’d do,” she said. “It’s such a healing place for them to be able to go to. A lot of people are afraid to go because they feel like, ‘Oh no, this is the end of the line.’ It’s not.”

The constant presence of the future and the past at the Challenge was noted by Dempsey, who lost his mother to cancer in 2014.

“They’re here with us. The real loss is they’ve gone on. We don’t have them around anymore. What we have is their actions, and the memories we have that will always be with us,” he said.

On Sunday, Dempsey will host opening ceremonies at 7 a.m. At 7:30 a.m. waves of cyclists organized into groupings by mile will depart, and at 8 a.m.,  Short Folks For Hope Foundation will take off from the starting line with a Rickshaw Team.


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