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Crowd turns out for Challenge

Crowd turns out for Challenge | City.

Although this has nothing to do with our particular cause at ARM-ME…it always makes me feel good to read about people who leave Maine and come back to give something “back” to the state they were raised in.  -Kristan

Crowd turns out for Challenge

LEWISTON — Joyful excitement mixed with bright morning sunshine as the second annual Patrick Dempsey Challenge got off to a successful start Saturday morning.

The popular TV star of ABC’s hit “Grey’s Anatomy” set the pace for hundreds of runners and walkers who took to the L-A streets from Simard-Payne Police Memorial park just after 8 a.m. They covered 5K and 10K routes through the community to raise money for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing at Central Maine Medical Center.

Well over 4,000 participants will take part this weekend. This year’s event, which was expanded to two days, promised to eclipse the inaugural effort in 2009 with more registered walkers, runners and cyclists, more exhibits to increase awareness of the Center’s education, support and wellness services, and more dollars for the Center.

Cheers of “We Love You” echoed over the large crowd of walk and run participants as Dempsey, a Lewiston native who grew up in Turner and Buckfield, took the stage at the starting line on Oxford Street. Dempsey spoke briefly, emphasizing that the Challenge he founded is expected to be held every year. He said the local support is “amazing.”

As fans of the star surged toward the fence, Dempsey moved closer and greeted as many people as possible with a handshake, a few words and a ready smile for photo poses.

One of the young ladies lucky enough to share a few seconds with the star was Helen Chyz, a Bates College student and resident of Seattle, Wash.

“He’s got a great handshake. He’s so nice. He told me he was surprised to meet someone from so far away as Seattle,” she said as she shared the moment with friends.

Soon after his introduction, Dempsey was shoulder-to-shoulder among the mass of enthusiastic walkers/runners for the 5K and new 10K events. Organizers kept order, and within minutes Dempsey moved out with an easy trot at the head of the pack. At this time, he went only a couple of hundred yards with the crowd before sliding to the side of the street and into his vehicle for a trip to a news conference. He may also walk Sunday afternoon with his mother in the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer Survivor Walk.

With the TV heartthrob’s initial event appearance finished, the walk and run participants got into a comfortable rhythm … some fast and some slow … over the first day’s non-competitive course.

Lining the route were hundreds of family members and friends supporting people of all ages who walked or ran individually or with many various teams from local businesses and organizations.

“Go Dad” and “Run for Grampy” were the words on signs held by Jillian and Ethan Rombalski, ages 10 and 7, who stood with their mother, Jenn Rombalski of Auburn. She said her husband, Chad, was running in the 10k event in memory of “Big Ed” Rombalski.

On the opposite side of the street near the starting line was a spectator with a shirt supporting “Team Amy,” participating on behalf of Amy Keck. That shirt was worn by a dog named Luna, a large malamute that was paying little attention to the noisy crowd.

Dempsey’s Saturday morning schedule also included a news conference at Portland Yacht Club, where he led a private bicycle ride including about a dozen sponsors as well as three international cycling champions who came to the Dempsey Challenge at the star’s invitation. They are Levi Leipheimer, Olympic bronze medalist and eight-time Tour de France competitor; Chris Horner, four-time Tour de France competitor; and Kevin Livingston, six-time Tour de France veteran.

The international cyclists also will ride in the Sunday morning non-competitive event which has 100-mile, 50-mile, 25-mile and 10-mile groups. The riders shared jokes with Dempsey about who was more physically fit and properly trained. Dempsey is a fitness enthusiast and he drew cheers when he stated at the news conference that he hopes a youth cycling program can soon be incorporated into the Dempsey Challenge.

Amanda Dempsey, mother of the star, is a primary reason he undertook formation of the Patrick Dempsey Center. She is a survivor of ovarian cancer, and her daughter and Patrick’s sister, Mary Dempsey, is volunteer corps manager for the Dempsey Center. She has been a CMMC employee for 28 years and was an important participant in the center’s foundation and ongoing activities, all of which are provided free of charge.

Dempsey’s mother said, “I am so thankful that Patrick made it possible for this Center. It would have been so much better for me if we could have had it back then.”

Mary Dempsey also expressed her admiration for the work of everyone involved in the center. She said she is amazed at the impact it has had on patients and the community.

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