Patrick Dempsey talks with Jeremy Caron of Lewiston about Caron’s specialized bicycle at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston on Friday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Over the weekend, hundreds of people will be relying on the strength of their legs as they run, walk or bike the hard Dempsey Challenge miles.

Patrick Dempsey greets the Challenge to Conquer Cancer riders at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston on Friday. The team rides from South Carolina to participate in the Dempsey Challenge each year. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

But not Jeremy Caron. As the Challenge kicked off Friday afternoon in Simard-Payne Memorial Park, the 32-year-old Lewiston man was seated on a recumbent bike, preparing to ride in a completely different fashion to help the cause.

“It’s all done with my arms,” Caron said. “I have a disability called spina bifida, so I can’t use my feet or legs.”

With the help of the $10,000 bicycle, Caron will ride this weekend along with others, locals and those from far away, who turn out to help the Dempsey Center achieve its goals: to make life better for people managing the impact of cancer.

“It’s a great event,” Caron said. “And a great cause. I just love it and Patrick is a great guy.”

Patrick, of course, being Patrick Dempsey, the beloved actor and the face of the Dempsey Challenge. As usual, Patrick was there at Simard-Payne Memorial Park, patiently posing for photos and mingling with participants and the dozens who volunteer at the event.

Volunteers like David Gervais, known locally as “Top Dollar Dave” for his fundraising prowess. Gervais has helped raise money for the Dempsey Challenge all 11 years of its existence. Those who know him say he’s relentless. The Challenge is a fundraiser for the Dempsey Center, which offers free services for people affected by cancer.

“I’ve been sending out letters from the Challenge every year,” Gervais said. “And I’ve been getting a lot of response back. A lot of businesses and a lot of co-sponsors. I’ve also got relatives in Montana, Virginia and Texas, and I hit them up, too.”

Gervais said that in addition to scrounging up donations, he’ll be walking the Challenge course on Saturday and riding his bike Sunday. Asked what he likes about being involved, he’s quick to answer.

“Everything,” he said. “The people are just great and so generous.”

In the registration tent, completely abuzz by 4 p.m., Larry Littlefield was helping out as a steady stream of people came in to sign up for the Challenge. He and his girlfriend have been volunteering at the event for 11 years.

“It’s a great cause and it’s great for the community,” Littlefield said. “Every year it seems to bring people together and the Lewiston area just seems to love it. We love it, too. We love being part of it.”

As for Dempsey, Littlefield doesn’t tend to jump into the mobs of people who generally gather around the movie star. Admiring the man from afar is good enough for Littlefield.

“I’ve seen him, I’ve been close to him, but that’s it so far,” he said of Patrick. “He brings a lot of positive energy to the event. He never shies away from anyone and he’s always got a smile on his face. He’s there for everybody — the volunteers, the participants, everyone. He does a great job.”

Standing in the shade with a Shih Tzu named Logan was Jennifer Thompson, an employee of TD Bank and a volunteer at the event.

“TD Bank,” Thompson said, “is big on Dempsey Challenge support.”

Thompson came out in part because her best friend, Melissa Gleaton, of Tewksbury, Mass., is biking in the event after raising $750 in just eight days for the Challenge.

Mostly, though, Thompson said she wants to help out and to have a little bit of fun while doing it.

“I’m excited,” she said. “Any time you can help your community and give back — especially when it comes to cancer support to the families and the survivors, the ones going through the process — why wouldn’t you want to support that? Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of it?”

By 4:30 p.m., the park was already buzzing with the registrations, Patrick Dempsey’s presence and a variety of things going on in the periphery. Then the Challenge to Conquer Cancer team arrived after the long journey from South Carolina and a fresh spasm of excitement rippled through the crowd.

How was the ride, the locals wanted to know.

“It was grueling,” said Gina Franco, a cancer survivor who made the roughly 1,000-mile bike ride with half a dozen other bicyclists. “Hey, I’m 59. It was very tough physically.”

Which seems like a fair way to describe a weekend of running, walking and biking. But Franco works with cancer survivors and their families in Greenville, South Carolina, so she knows that the work of the Dempsey Challenge completely justifies the aches, pains and saddle sores.

“It’s very, very dear to me,” she said of the Challenge.

The event kicks off officially at 7 a.m. Saturday when Patrick Dempsey hosts the opening ceremonies in the park.

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