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Local cyclist raises $15,000 for Dempsey Challenge

And rides with pink and purple tutus and a pink tiara

By Nathan Tsukroff

LEWISTON – Last year it was a pink tutu. This year it’s a pink tutu, a purple tutu, and a pink tiara.

Dennis Richardson of Turner was out to embarrass himself again this year for the Dempsey Challenge, riding his bike to help raise money for the Dempsey Center in Lewiston in support of cancer patients and survivors.

Dennis Richardson sports the pink tiara and purple and pink tutus he wore during his 100-mile ride on Sunday during the Dempsey Challenge. Richardson’s wife, Lori, had made him promise to wear the tutus and tiara if their Be the Miracle fundraising team reached the $15,000 mark before the end of the day last Saturday. (Tsukroff photo)

Last Friday, he reached his local goal of $15,000 for the Be the Miracle team he put together this year along with his wife, Lori, to raise money for the Challenge, “because Cancer doesn’t stop because of COVID.” He planned to wear a pink tutu on part of his ride to represent the fight against breast cancer, and a purple tutu to represent the fight against pancreatic cancer. The pink tiara he was to wear on his helmet was a donation from a person in New Jersey.

Patrick Dempsey and Richardson “grew up as best friends, from the time we were little kids, like four years old. And then I worked for his father in the family business, with Patrick,” Richardson said. “So we’ve always been very close.”

Richards, Dempsey and Richardson’s older brother, Eric, all worked for the bottle return business run by Dempsey’s father in Turner, ME.

“In 2014, he challenged me to quit smoking,” Richardson said. “It was a challenge to quit smoking, get healthy, (and) ride with him in the Dempsey Challenge.” Richardson started training in March of that year, riding some 2,000 practice miles and dropping 44 pounds. He finished his 50-mile ride in the Challenge in 3 hours and 16 minutes, and raised a combined $7500 with his 8-person team that year.

Every year since then, Dempsey has sent him a bike, and he has ridden in the Dempsey Challenge and done fundraising both for the Dempsey Center and other important causes. “In doing so, we did Bikes for Tots, me and Freddy Rodriguez. We gave bikes to underprivileged children in Maine.” Rodriguez is a pro-cyclist in California.

Richardson said he rode 300 miles non-stop in his Bikes for Tots fundraiser, “A triple-century ride! And we raised $5,000” that was used to purchase bicycles and helmets that were distributed by the Renaissance School in Auburn. The Renaissance School is part of the St. Mary’s Health System and is a special purpose private school that serves children in grades K-8.

“This year, we didn’t have a fundraiser, because of COVID. So we just concentrated on the Dempsey Challenge,” Richardson said. With the COVID-19 pandemic, Richardson and his wife decided to forgo their usual corporate fundraising requests and created their own fundraising group instead.

Their efforts paid off, and they led the fundraising efforts for this year’s Challenge by almost $10,000 above any of the corporate fundraisers, Richardson said. Other members of Richardson’s team have worked hard with their fundraising efforts, and Friday saw the team reach a total of more than $50,000 in donations.

Their Be the Miracle team has 33 members from around the world and across the US, in Germany, Italy, Venezuela, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and California. “These people, because of the connection with Patrick, have become friends,” he said. “The Dempsey Challenge . . . is also about relationships. You get to meet people who are in the same boat.”

This year’s fundraiser is a virtual event, and has been extended till midnight on Wednesday, Sept 20, 2020.

The Challenge ride was also virtual this year, hosted by Zwift, an online training app for running and cycling. Cyclists were to take part in virtual 10-, 25-, 45-, and 60-mile rides to help raise funds to fight cancer. Zwift had promised an additional $25,000 donation to the Dempsey center if either 25,000 cyclists from around the world joined the event, or $25,000 was raised by Zwift as part of the event.

As part of the Zwift experience, the Dempsey Center invited 5 participants, all with ties to the Dempsey Center or Dempsey Challenge, to be part of an in-person experience located at the Dempsey Center. Participants pedaled on a trainer, driving their avatar around a virtual course.

Guests included Kyle Rancourt, Dempsey Challenge steering committee member and Zwift group ride leader; Trevor Maxwell, Dempsey Center client and founder of online community and podcast Man Up to Cancer; Lizzie Baker, M.D., cancer survivor and cycling coach of the Dempsey Challenge “Training Tuesdays” series; Dennis Richardson, co-captain of “Be the Miracle” – the top fundraising team of the Dempsey Challenge.

The event was to virtually host several celebrity athletes, including Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall, Boston Marathon winner Desiree Linden, Stanley Cup winner Andrew Ference, and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte.

In order to host this special event during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dempsey Center adhered to state CDC guidelines, taking additional precautions to ensure a safe and meaningful event for guests. 

Following the virtual ride Saturday, Richardson planned to cycle in person on Sunday “to the ocean and back,” wearing his pink and purple tutus, for a video to download to Strava, another virtual training app for runners and cyclists.

For virtual rides, cyclists remove the rear wheel of their bike and attach it to a training device that adjusts pedaling resistance to give the rider the impression of climbing up and coasting down hills.

Richardson’s father died from complications of colon cancer in 1999. “We didn’t have a Dempsey Center then,” Richardson said.

On December 14, 2019, Richardson’s brother, Eric, died unexpectedly from a heart attack.

Dempsey and his family came to Maine over the Christmas holiday, and Dempsey then stayed on an extra day after his wife and children returned to California to “spend a day with me and get me through it. To give me advise, help me out,” Richardson said. “So, you know, he went out of his way . . . so how do you repay that? So what you do, you work a little harder, and you raise more money.”

Richardson said that with this extended visit, Dempsey “saved me twice. In that challenge to quit smoking, he saved my life.”

Dempsey found a special way to help Richardson remember his brother by giving Richardson a wristwatch. Dempsey told Richardson to think of his brother every time he puts on the watch.

A couple of weeks ago, when Richardson met with Dempsey in person, he told Dempsey “Every time I put this watch on, I think of Eric . . . and you.” It is this caring and friendship that Richardson said motivates him with his efforts for the Dempsey Challenge.

Dennis Richardson wears a watch that was given to him by Patrick Dempsey after the sudden death of Richardson’s brother, Eric, last December. Richardson said he thinks of his brother every time he puts on the watch. (Tsukroff photo)

Dempsey helped start the Patrick Dempsey Center at Central Maine Medical Center, Lewiston, in response to his mother’s bouts with cancer. The first Dempsey Challenge took place in 2009. Dempsey’s mother died on March 24, 2014.

The Dempsey Center “has always been a positive spin on such a negative family situation, with cancer,” Richardson said. “You know, they help everybody in the family, they heal them . . . not just the patient.”

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