LEWISTON, Maine — There’s a cyclist from Ireland somewhere on the road in southern Maine with warm hands thanks to the kindness of a stranger he met along the way.
All day Sunday Susan Lindkwist and three of her friends stood at the end of her Old Anvil Road driveway outside of Lewiston waving to cyclists taking part in this year’s Dempsey Challenge to raise funds for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer, Hope and Healing at Central Maine Medical Center.
More than 4,200 cyclists, runners and walkers from 33 states and six countries raised around $1.2 million for the center, founded by television and screen star Patrick Dempsey, best known for his portrayal of Dr. Derek Shepherd on “Grey’s Anatomy” and a native of southern Maine whose own mother is a cancer survivor.
Among the riders was that anonymous Irish lad with cold hands.
“This gentleman stopped and said his hands were frozen,” Lindkwist said, standing at the end of her driveway under an umbrella. “I offered him coffee or to come inside my house to warm up if he wanted.”
Riders in Sunday’s 10-, 25-, 50-, 70- and 100-mile loops took off from Lewiston under a persistent cold rain Sunday morning.
On Saturday runners and walkers took part in a 5- or 10-kilometer walk or run.
By late Sunday morning the rain had stopped, but the temperatures never rose above 50 degrees.
“I finally told him I’d see if I could find him some dry gloves,” Lindkwist said of the Irish cyclist. “I found a pair of my husband’s suede gloves and gave them to him.”
But not before she spent some time holding the cyclist’s hands in her own to warm them.
“He said thank you and was on his way,” Lindkwist said, adding she was amazed at the number of cyclists who braved the chilly conditions to ride in support of cancer awareness.
Riding for their friend Liz, who is currently battling liver cancer, Kathleen and Peter Fitzgerald of Yarmouth were taking a break on the side of the road to fix a flat tire.
“Whenever her treatments get tough we tell Liz to picture her team in lycra pedaling up the hills,” Kathleen Fitzgerald said with a laugh. “Liz told us she wants some good to come out of her diagnosis.
The nine members of Team Liz raised more than $4,500 for the Dempsey Center.
“Our motto is, ‘Kick Cancer in the Ass-phalt with Liz,’” Kathleen Fitzherbert said.
All along the route cancer survivors, friends and supporters held signs and cheered riders on with shouts of encouragement and the ringing of cowbells.
“It’s really, really humbling,” Jessica Montgomery of Stratton, New Hampshire said. “I am overwhelmed so many people are taking part.”
Celebrating three months of being cancer-free herself, Montgomery came to Maine to take part in the Dempsey 10k run on Saturday.
“I’m still a little queasy from the chemotherapy,” she said. “But I felt strong enough to run 10 kilometers.”
Dealing with the disease — ovarian cancer in her case — can be an isolating experience, Montgomery said.
“Cancer can make you feel very lonely,” she said. “But this weekend I felt part of a big community.”
Dempsey himself was on hand for the event, taking part in the 50-mile bicycle ride Sunday with professional riders Levi Leipheimer ,Tom Danielson, Matt Updike, Ted King, Kristin McGrath, Chloe Hosking and Ally Stacher.
Dempsey and his entourage took time to talk to cyclists along the way and stop for autographs and photos at the ride’s rest stops.
Named the 2012 Amgen Breakaway from Cancer Survivor Award winner, Kristin Short of Norway had intended to volunteer in 2010 at the Dempsey Challenge, only to be diagnosed with breast cancer that July.
“That diagnosis gave me a real change of perspective,” Short said after completing the 10-mile ride Sunday. “It is so inspiring to see so many people come together for this cause [and] I am honored to be involved.”
The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer, Hope and Healing was a Godsend for her family, Short said, as she underwent aggressive treatment for her breast cancer.
“I have three children and the people at the center really stepped in and helped with them,” Short said. “As a family we — and anyone dealing with cancer — have a lot of questions and there are not always a lot of answers.”
The Dempsey Center, she said, helped provide needed information and support.
One hundred percent of the funds raised by the walkers, runners and cyclists goes to the center.
That’s good news to people such as Montgomery who underwent extensive surgery, including a hysterectomy, to treat her ovarian cancer.
“You know, cancer might have stolen my fertility but I am now so appreciative for every day that I have,” she said. “I wake up every morning so happy about life [and] I will be back to ride in the challenge next year.”
Later that day, as riders were pedaling back into Lewiston, Lindkwist was still at the end of her driveway.
“You’re still here?” a rider called out.
“You’re still riding, aren’t you?” she replied with a wave and a smile.
And somewhere behind her, in her home, her husband no doubt, had extra gloves ready, just in case.
BDN writer Julia Bayly participated in the Dempsey Challenge.