Like so many people, actor Patrick Dempsey has seen cancer ravage his family. But unlike many people, he is in a position to do something about it. Next month, a few thousand people will come together for bike rides, fun runs and camaraderie while supporting the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing in Maine.
Over the past four years, the Dempsey Challenge has raised more than $1 million for charity in Dempsey’s home state of Maine.
Dempsey could have another type of event to raise money, but “I just didn’t want to sit inside and have a banquet and do a silent auction,” he told BikeRadar. “I wanted to promote a healthy lifestyle in a place that needs it.
“It all started when I was spokesman with the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer initiative. Cycling is just such a great sport. I love it. As a kid, it was the thing that gave you freedom. As an adult, it gives you the emotional freedom. That was something I could get behind and get passionate about.”
Dempsey said his event is different to other celebrity rides, such as Levi Leipheimer’s Gran Fondo, in that it’s more of a conversational ride where the community comes together to bond, not race.
“I do Levi’s Gran Fondo. It’s an incredible event. It’s a full-on race, which is exiting,” Dempsey said. “Our event is a cool, easy ride where you’re talking to people who are battling cancer or have lost someone in their family. They are moving conversations, literally.”
For years, Lance Armstrong was cycling’s poster boy for cancer-support fundraising. We asked Dempsey how Armstrong’s now-tarnished reputation could affect the Dempsey Challenge, or cancer-support fundraising in general.
“I think you’ve seen Livestrong as a very strong organization that does a lot of good, and that will continue,” he said. “I think it depend on the events themselves. People return to my event because of the quality of the experience.”
Dempsey rolls out at the start of the 2011 Challenge
Dempsey’s mother was diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2008, and has had other bouts since. Dempsey began looking around Maine for support centers for people with the disease, and found none.
He used the money he received as a spokesman for Amgen Breakaway to create the Dempsey Center, which is based in the Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Maine, but offers free support to anyone, regardless of where they are getting treatment. The Dempsey Center doesn’t offer direct treatment such as chemotherapy, but instead focuses on support, education and services like acupuncture, Reiki and massage.
Dempsey estimates that more than 15,000 people have used the Dempsey Center since it was founded in 2009. “The great success is from the volunteers,” he said. “The cancer survivors have so much heart. The goal ultimately would be to network across the country, and do more challenges and more events to support them.”
Maine’s fall foliage makes for a great backdrop to the ride
The Dempsey Challenge weekend, running from 13-14 October 2012, will include five cycling events (covering 10, 25, 50, 70 and 100 miles). There’ll also be a 5K and 10K run/walk. Dempsey said he is shooting to do the 100-mile ride, “but we always spend too much time talking and hanging out.”
He explained that his favorite part about the weekend is how so many people drop their guard. “There is no agenda, really. Everyone is real open and positive. In a world that I find harder and harder to deal with, with the politics and all of it, this is a nice little respite. And at the same time you are really aware of life and death; you see it every mile in the tribute signs and pictures along the way.”
Many attendees ride in honor of a loved one