LEWISTON, Maine — In two weeks, Mainers and others across the country and world will take part in the 13th annual Dempsey Challenge. Those who mount their bikes or lace up their sneakers to participate sometimes have a personal reason for doing so. This annual event raises money for the Dempsey Center, which offers a sense of community and support to cancer patients and their caregivers -- for free.
Six years ago, Dr. Lizzie Baker was working at Central Maine Medical Center. She heard about the Dempsey Challenge and decided to sign up. A couple of months later, she received some difficult and life-changing news -- her mom had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She chose to do the longest bike ride to honor her mom and has been racking up hundreds of miles ever since, participating in the challenge each year.
Click here for the Challenge Week schedule of events.
"I don't think at that time I had done anything more than 40 miles," Baker recalled about her first time doing the Challenge, chuckling. She ended up biking 130 miles in two days. For her, motivation to power through came from her mom.
"My mom was fighting a bigger battle than I was that day or those two days," Baker expressed. She remembers feeling "tired" at the end, but also "really successful".
Since finding out about her mom's diagnosis, Baker has adopted a new habit. Nearly every day, she decorates her face with a colorful, artistic mark she calls "war paint" -- a reminder she and her mom are in the battle against cancer together. This year, other Challenge participants will be invited to wear "war paint" with Baker, if they want to do so.
"You just put on your 'war paint' and say, 'I'm ready to go. I'm ready to fight this today,' -- and we're fighting it as a collective," Baker said.
That sense of community is a big part of the Dempsey Challenge. Last year, the event happened virtually because of the pandemic, but Baker still took part. She said the experience was eye-opening.
"You always have people out there, and we learned last year there are really unique ways to access each other and ways that we can be connected, even if we're not right next to each other," Baker said.
Still, though, she said she's excited to hug people in-person again this time around.
"To be able to reunite and see people again -- I think it's going to be so beneficial."
Chatting with Patrick Dempsey ahead of the 2021 Global Dempsey Challenge
Baker said the fight against cancer is largely about attitude. Her mom is still around and is "doing great."
"It's the people you surround yourself with that really make a difference in how positive you can be," Baker expressed.