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Tutu time again for Dempsey Challenge rider

By Nathan Tsukroff

LEWISTON – It was tutu time again for Dennis Richardson of Turner as he rode for the seventh time in the Dempsey Challenge.

He’s been riding his bike in the annual Challenge since Patrick Dempsey, a childhood friend, challenged him to stop smoking in 2014.

Richardson participated last year wearing a pink tutu to signify the fight against breast cancer, and a purple tutu to represent the fight against pancreatic cancer.

This year, he wore just the pink tutu, with a pink tiara perched atop his bicycle helmet, and added pink pom-poms on his shoes, another gift from a friend and supporting fundraiser in New Jersey.

Dennis Richardson of Turner warms up for the Dempsey Challenge in a recent ride through downtown Lewiston, sporting the pink tutu and tiara he committed to wear if he met his fundraising goal for this year. Setting an initial goal of $10,000, Richardson had raised over $14,000 by Sunday, the day of the ride. (Tsukroff photo)

Despite his claims to “hate wearing the tutu,” Richardson rides with a smile as he acknowledges the waves and smiles of passers-by, and the honks of drivers.

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 in March, 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.”

Dempsey and Richardson grew up as best friends in Turner. “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.”

“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

Dempsey has returned to Lewiston-Auburn every fall for the annual Dempsey Challenge. The Dempsey Center said his presence is felt throughout the weekend as he participates in one of the cycle rides, along with his friends and family, greets the crowds and personally thanks top fundraisers for their amazing efforts.

In 2016, Patrick took on an advisory role, and in 2018 he became a Dempsey Center board member so he can continue to help support those impacted by cancer, according to the Dempsey Center.

The Dempsey Challenge went virtual in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,and returned as an in-person event this year, along with the first Global Dempsey Challenge.

Laurie Steele (right), Publisher of the Twin City Times and Gorham Weekly, presents a donation to Dennis Richards of Turner to help him in raising more than $14,000 to benefit the Dempsey Centers in Lewiston and South Portland (Tsukroff photo)

Presented by Amgen Oncology, the Dempsey Challenge is the primary fundraising event for the Dempsey Center. Poland Spring is a Centurion sponsor of the event, with Central Maine Healthcare, Specialized, IDEXX, 107.5 Frank FM, Zwift, and 99.9 The Wolf as Champion sponsors.

 Registration for the Dempsey Challenge 2021 opened in April and offered a local in-person event in Lewiston – with an emphasis on implementing industry-leading COVID-19 safety protocols – and a global option, allowing participants to complete the Challenge, wherever they are in the world.

Richardson and his wife, Lori, reached their 2020 fundraising goal with a final donation from Twin City Times/Gorham Weekly publisher Laurie Steele, and this year he presented Steele with a pink tutu of her own, challenging her to ride with him next year as part of a group of “pink tutu riders”.

Steele said she hasn’t ridden a bicycle since childhood, as she accepted the challenge.

The pandemic dampened the fundraising abilities for Richardson this year, so he set an original goal of just $10,000 for this year’s Challenge. He surpassed that goal and was over $14,000 in his fundraising efforts just days before riding in the Challenge on Sunday.

After raising about $1.2M each year the past couple of years, the Dempsey Challenge set a lofty goal of $1.5 Million for this year. “We learned so much over the course of the last year,” Deneka Deletetsky, Event Manager, said. “And what stands out most is that the power of a community of passionate, dedicated, fearless folks who work tirelessly to help ease someone’s cancer journey is unstoppable.”  

Participants from 45 different countries took part in the 2020 Dempsey Challenge, “So, we really, really are a new, refreshed Dempsey Challenge!” she said. “We’re going with it as the Global Dempsey Challenge.”

“For the first time there’s no barrier to participate. People can choose to participate however they feel comfortable – whether they want to be with us here, locally, in our local Challenge right here in Lewiston/Auburn, or if they want to be a global participant. They can participant virtually from wherever they are in the world,” Deletetsky said.

By the Challenge weekend, fundraising was at $1,351,201 for 2021.

The top fundraisers as of Sunday were Fran Stanhope at $23,658, “Top Dollar” Dave Gervais at $18,681, Serena Panzeri at $18,180, Ethan Helie at $17,255, Sheena Wenz at $16,900, Shawn Cox at $16,415, Kathy Dettmann at $16,393, Richardson at $14,150, Carmella Petitt at $12,380 and Don Oakes at $11,650.

The Concentra team had raised $100,192, followed by the Fran’s Army team at $83,418.

The presenting sponsor of the Dempsey Challenge/Global Dempsey Challenge 2021 is Amf Oncology, with Poland Spring as a Centurion sponsor.

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