LEWISTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The 2016 Dempsey Challenge kicked off Saturday morning at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston

The weekend-long event raises money and awareness for the Dempsey Center, an environment where a team of oncology professionals improves the healing experience for anyone impacted by cancer. According to the organization's website: “The Dempsey Challenge champions a spirit of celebration and culture of paying it forward.”

Thousands of people came out from all over the world to challenge themselves and spread a message of hope on Saturday.

"I'm a cancer survivor and I had one son that was a cancer survivor that didn't survive," said Joe Lelansky of Auburn. "I run in his honor."

Lelansky said he had won four Dempsey Challenges in a row for his age bracket by default: he was the only 85-year-old competing.

Others, like Christy Gardner, were overcoming different challenges. Gardner was attempting her first 5K as a boule amputee, while supporting her friends and family affected by cancer.

"It's nice when the community can come together and really be there for each other," said Gardner."You go past so many people every day that you don't know what everyone's dealing with. It's unreal to see how people are succeeding. They've battled cancer or lost someone to cancer and life goes on, so it's neat to see them battle back."

"It's a great way to show her how strong she is and how much support she has from the Colby community but also the cancer community in general," said Bready.

"It's a beautiful story and it brings everybody together and it supports her and her cancer journey and she's not alone and that's what the whole thing is about," said Patrick Dempsey, the event's founder who is well-known for his acting roles such as Dr. Derek Shepherd on the television show "Grey's Anatomy."

The survivor walk draws cancer survivors and their family members for a shorter walk to honor those who have beaten the brutal disease.

"I just received my last treatment for cancer two weeks ago," said Deb, a volunteer at the event. "When I held the survivor shirt, and it was my shirt, and I read the word survivor, I mean that was really tough because part of you still resists that you ever had cancer. So it's trying to figure out how to live that way because it just changes your identity."

She said people battling cancer and those who have survived it find strength in each other.

"They have all the right to hate the world, but I find that in the community, there's so much willingness toshare and support each other that it really renewed my faith in people."

The Dempsey Challenge Schedule:
• Cycle: 10, 25, 50, 70, and 100 miles
• 140+ mile Two-Day Ride presented by L.L. Bean
• Run/Walk: 5K (3.1 miles), and 10K (6.2 miles)
• Free, family-friendly Festival in the Park, open to the public
• Music Festival, free and open to the public
• Kids’ Fun Run & Family Ride, free, please pre-register
• Survivor Walk, free, no pre-registration required

The Dempsey Center team said they provide support that compliments treatment, supports caregivers, patients, and their families.

A few of those services include aromatherapy, led by Osteopathic Family Physician Josephine Conte, DO. She uses essential oils that have been extracted from plants (flowers, herbs, fruit, trees) to improve the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of her patients. Yoga is another service offered at the center, teaches breathing practices, movement, and sound to help soothe and balance the body and mind. It’s led by Yoga teacher, mentor, and cancer survivor Kat Larsen.
Cooking classes offer nutrition education and health promotion. Coordinator Ellen Shrader teaches how to prepare meals that are healthy, tasty, and low in cost. Meditation is another service that is offered to participants. The Dempsey Center invites the public to come in for a tour to learn about all the programs and services offered at the Center.