Cycling against cancer

Presque Isle High School faculty member shares experience within the Dempsey Challenge


Ram Sport

Gail Ruscetta rides her 1983 Schwinn Voyageur across the finish line at the Dempsey Challenge in Lewiston on September 26. “The finish line wound us through the park and the dozens of homemade signs honoring and celebrating those fighting or lost to cancer, or thanking friends and family for support,” said Ruscetta. “Mary Dempsey came over to me and we had a chat. I was just floored by how well-run this event is and cannot wait for next year.”

Kai Levesque, Staff Writer

With extensive training, a hefty water bottle, and a mighty steed of gears and metal, English teacher Gail Ruscetta found herself on a 65-mile long bike trek as a participant in the Dempsey Challenge on September 26 in Lewiston.  “My training had begun late June,” said Ruscetta. “I trained about an hour each day, all throughout July to September. I practiced biking, up till the day of the Dempsey challenge. Even now, I still go for the occasional ride,” she said.

When we reached the finish line, I couldn’t help but think ‘lucky me.’”

— Gail Ruscetta

As someone who recently battled colon cancer, Ruscetta stated that, “The terrible news of my diagnosis transformed into a journey that I have learned so much from.” She added her gratitude for the Dempsey Center, feeling that her participation was her way of giving back to them for all they had done for her. The Dempsey Center works to battle cancer, and every dollar gained from the event goes toward the well-being of their patients. “The support and friendship I’ve gained over my journey really helped me through my sickness. Shortly after my surgery, I began cycling, and honestly, I haven’t been able to stop ever since.”

Ruscetta encouraged students to partake in this challenge. “It’s like a festival,” she said. “They provide lunch, there’s lots of support, campsites and vendors. It’s so much fun!” As of 2021, Patrick Dempsey, Maine native and founder of the Dempsey Challenge, announced that approximately 1.3 million dollars have been raised by the events. For $50, the participant may partake in one of the events – walking or biking – but for $75, they are capable of doing both. 

“I have multiple favorite moments from the Dempsey challenge, “said Ruscetta.  “I participated with my youngest son, Finn, and it was great to spend time with him. We were Team Semicolon [;], which was inspired by my colon surgery,” she said. “When we reached the finish line, there were people cheering and holding up signs they had made themselves. The dedication and compassion of these people overwhelmed me. I couldn’t help but think, ‘lucky me.’”