LEWISTON — It’s been two years since the Dempsey Challenge was last held in person at Simard-Payne Memorial Park.

Though the 2020 event was moved online due to the pandemic, there is no virtual replacement for the chorus of cow bells, live music and the supportive cheers from volunteers.

There’s no substitute for seeing Patrick Dempsey in person, either.

On Saturday, in-person participants of the 5K run/walk and 10K run were fortunate not to have to settle for replacements.

An aerial view of Simard Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston shows some staging and the course for Saturday morning’s Dempsey Challenge. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Challenge weekend kicked off Saturday in Simard-Payne Park in Lewiston, with the run/walk events covering portions of Lewiston and Auburn. A Family & Friends festival followed in the park, with various vendors and live music.

On Sunday, 25-, 50-, 65- and 100-mile bike rides are planned with open starts between 7:30 and 9 a.m. Day 2 of the family festival in the park follows.

This is just the 13th iteration of the Dempsey Challenge, yet it has already become an important tradition for the Lewiston-Auburn community and beyond.

The event draws participants from more than just neighboring towns. Kim King, whose husband was just diagnosed with lung cancer, drove four hours from the Aroostook County town of Sherman for the Dempsey Challenge. Others came from New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Year after year, the same teams and volunteers gather at this event in honor and remembrance of loved ones who have battled, or are currently battling, cancer. Many survivors themselves walk or run either 5K or 10K.

Although there were fewer participants than in previous years, the 2021 Dempsey Challenge raised more money than ever before.

As of Saturday afternoon, 1,500 in-person and 500 virtual participants raised more than  $1.3 million for the Dempsey Center.

“This year alone, we’ve been struggling on so many levels,” said Dempsey, the center’s namesake. “There’s so much divide in the world that we’re living in, but when we rally around the right cause, look what we can do together.”

Dave Gervais, also known as “Top Dollar Dave,” is virtually synonymous with the Dempsey Challenge. He’s been consistently one of the top fundraisers for the challenge since the start.

This year, he raised more than $18,000 for the event, the second highest fundraiser. Fran Stanhope was the top fundraiser this year, bringing in over $23,000 for the Dempsey Center.

Team Concentra raised more than $100,000 for the center, the most of any team. Teams from Bates College raised just under $30,000, earning the College Cup.

Two-time cancer survivor Lorraine Zuma talks with Patrick Dempsey in Simard Payne Memorial Park during Saturday’s Dempsey Challenge. She came with her daughter from New York to attend the event. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

In many ways, the Dempsey Challenge is a celebration of survival. But beneath the jovial atmosphere is an undercurrent of loss. For many people, the Dempsey Challenge is a time to remember loved ones who have passed.

Christie Kimball is the captain of team #DarcyStrong. On Saturday, she walked in memory of her father, Mike Darcy, who died from gallbladder cancer in 2018.

“(The Dempsey Challenge) really brings back a lot of emotions,” she said as she teared up.

Her father went to the Dempsey Center for massages during his months-long battle with cancer. Kimball and the other members of #DarcyStrong raised just over $3,000 this year in his memory.

Tom Fritzsche his niece walked the 5K hand-in-hand for his sister, Kate. For six years, she’s battled cancer, he said.

Nearly every participant in the challenge has a story or a loved one who has battled cancer.

The University of New England team cheers on a runner Saturday as he heads to the finish line of the 10K run during the Dempsey Challenge at Simard Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The Dempsey Challenge is the primary fundraising event for the Dempsey Center, a nonprofit organization that provides free support services for people with cancer and their family. The center offers counseling, fitness classes, massages and other types of support.

Dempsey, a Buckfield native, founded the center in 2008 to honor his mother, Amanda. She died from cancer in 2014.

During the awards ceremony, Dempsey announced that the center was currently working with a nonprofit organization on creating a second Dempsey Challenge event in Dublin, Ireland.

For more information on the challenge or the work of the Dempsey Center in Lewiston, visit dempseycenter.org.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.