Staff members Deneka Deletetsky, left, and Cheryl Ramsey, sit in a meeting room at The Dempsey Center in Lewiston. They helped paint messages of hope on the windows in advance of the Dempsey Challenge this weekend. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

When it became clear that a normal Dempsey Challenge wasn’t going to be possible this year, organizers decided to “reimagine” the 12th edition.

No, there won’t be thousands of participants in Lewiston this weekend, at least not in person. Instead, those thousands of people will be there in spirit, virtually.

“It’s been a big year for virtual everything,” said Carmella Petitt, who handles public relations for Patrick Dempsey.

Endurance athlete Travis McKenzie will be one of the few people at the Dempsey Center in Lewiston this weekend, taking part in virtual Zwift bicycle rides at the center on Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday.

“This year, as we moved to the reimagined challenge and everything going virtual, I was invited to become part of the steering committee for the challenge, and through that identified a number of options or opportunities for us to take the event to a virtual world, through Strava and Zwift and some of the other opportunities,” McKenzie said. “And through that I ended up joining the (Dempsey Center) team in June to really foster and bring those experiences to life. And as a part of that I really wanted to also get behind fundraising.”

McKenzie has raised the second-most amount of money individually for this year’s challenge, at more than $17,000, behind Lewiston native and perennial top fundraiser David Gervais, who has brought in more than $20,000 for the Challenge this year. Team “Be the Miracle,” which includes Dempsey’s childhood friend Dennis Richardson, has topped the team fundraising at more than $37,000.

McKenzie grew up in Australia, where his father was a triathlete. Travis followed in his footsteps and competed in his first triathlon when he was 8 years old. He lives in Massachusetts, but recently purchased a house in Scarborough, which isn’t far from his wife’s native Cape Elizabeth. He co-owns Musette Restaurant in Kennebunkport, which is where his connection to the Dempsey Challenge began.

Travis McKenzie participates in a previous Dempsey Challenge. Derek Bissonnette photo via Dempsey Center Facebook page

The restaurant hosted a Dempsey Challenge dinner three years ago, and McKenzie was invited to take part in the day bicycle ride.

“That was my first interaction with the Challenge and the folks from the center, and really immediately resonated with the mission and the goal and the event and the whole experience in Maine in the fall,” McKenzie said. “So it was kind of love at first sight, really, when it came to everything involved in the center and the Challenge.”

He participated each of the past two years, fundraising what he called “a modest amount, a couple thousand each year.”

This year, he challenged himself physically, and challenged others to help him take his fundraising to the next level.

McKenzie completed what he called the Calendar Club, where during the month of July he ran each day, with the number of miles matching the day of the month. It started with a one-mile run and finished up with a 31-mile trek on the last day of July. Add it all up and it’s 496 miles of running in one month. He asked others to sponsor miles to help fundraise.

McKenzie’s goal was to raise $15,000 during the month, to account for 1% of the Dempsey Challenge’s total fundraising goal of $1.5 million.

On Wednesday evening, more than $750,000 had been raised.

“It was really a stretch goal,” he said. “It was really something that I thought in my wildest dreams would I be able to help and support that much.”

In the last few days of July, McKenzie not only surpassed his goal, but bumped his fundraising total above $17,000.

“People really got around that and saw how genuine and real and authentic that experience was for me, and I was able to effectively share my story with people and it really resonated,” he said. “And people, unfortunately, have all been impacted by cancer, so the ability to support the center and the work of the center I think really resonated with people, no matter where they were around the world.”

McKenzie said the benefit of this year’s Dempsey Challenge going virtual is that people from all around the world can all participate in the same manner, whether it’s tracking activities including Saturday’s run/walk  on the Strava app or cycling on Zwift, which will host a group ride with Dempsey on Saturday afternoon and the Dempsey Challenge virtual rides on Sunday, with 10, 25, 45, and 60-mile rides.

Screenshot of the Zwift virtual cycling app. Dempsey Center Facebook page

The challenge for participants is to combine for 1.5 million miles of activity as part of the event.

Petitt said Dempsey’s plans for the weekend are not yet settled, but he is going to try his best to get to Maine.

The Dempsey Challenge kicked off last weekend with the Survivor Drive, which this year takes the place of the Survivor Walk in Lewiston. Windows at the Dempsey Center in Lewiston — as well as the South Portland location — were decorated with paint so survivors and their friends and family could “drive by the Dempsey Centers for a moment of peace and reflection,” according to the Dempsey Center website, which has a full event schedule. The windows will stay painted through the weekend.

The reimagined Dempsey Challenge will come to a close Sunday at 4 p.m. with a livestreamed virtual closing ceremony.

“Given what we’re all dealing with, I honestly don’t think we could have had a better opportunity or we couldn’t have reimagined a better Challenge in this virtual world, given that we are able to have people participate from all over the world, and we’ve integrated some new platforms, and I think this really will be a launch pad for the future of the Challenge,” McKenzie said. “You know, obviously the goal being to get together in the fall in 2021, but now also have the virtual element that can include and engage people from wherever they are in the world. I think this is a great opportunity in year one, and then we’ll look to continue that in corresponding years, and then also have that in-person celebration, and it’ll be even more meaningful when we are able to get together again.”

Windows at the Dempsey Center in Lewiston are painted so survivors and their friends and family can drive by for a moment of peace and reflection. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo


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