Sport management student Alex Elmore volunteers at 2022 Dempsey Challenge
Elmore, a University of Missouri–St. Louis senior majoring in sport management, had to make decisions on the fly and adjustments due to the inclement weather, including keeping the banners and backdrops he had meticulously hung in place.
“It was hard to stay up with that because the wind would break these zip ties constantly,” he said.
He was one of 800 volunteers from across the country pitching in to keep the Dempsey Challenge running smoothly on Sept. 24 and Sept. 25. More than 1,000 people flocked to Simard-Payne Park to run, walk, ride and cheer on others during the annual charity event.
It’s the largest fundraiser of the year for the Dempsey Center, which was founded by actor Patrick Dempsey in 2008 and provides free support to cancer patients and their loved ones. Two locations in Maine and an online portal, Dempsey Connects, offer a variety of services including counseling, nutrition classes and movement and fitness instruction.
Participants ran and walked in 5k and 10k races on Saturday and biked 10-, 20-, 50-, 65- or 100-mile cycling routes on Sunday. Both days also featured combination run/walk and ride events, as well as a virtual challenge for those who couldn’t make it to Maine. Their efforts over the weekend raised $1.6 million for the center.
“It was great to know what we were able to do was helping not just the community but also the Dempsey Center,” Elmore said. “It’s all free of charge there because of events like this that raise that money, and it’s great to know that’s what we’re doing it for.”
The event also helped Elmore – a recipient of the Triton Summer Scholarship, Chancellors Transfer Scholarship and Associates Degree Completion Scholarship – continue to develop professional skills in the field.
The opportunity to work it stemmed from a previous volunteer experience at the Saint Francis Tulsa Tough Ride and Race, a three-day cycling festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Elmore and several other UMSL sport management students worked with Medalist Sports, an event production company that specializes in bike races, at the festival in June.
Karen Boleska, director of the sport management program in the College of Education, said the students had a positive experience in Tulsa and stayed in touch with the company. As the Dempsey Challenge approached, Medalist Sports approached Boleska about collaborating again.
Elmore jumped at the chance to continue the relationship. Boleska puts a high priority on practical skills and professional development, and it was the type of opportunity she encourages students to pursue. In this case, Elmore’s initiative paid dividends.
“During our relationship, from Tulsa Tough and the Dempsey Challenge, we’ve secured an internship for Alex for next semester,” Boleska said. “Through this relationship we’ve built, I talked to the president and CEO, and we’ve secured an internship for spring, summer and fall for two students each semester.”
The relationship has continued during the fall semester as well. Several sport management students, including Elmore, recently volunteered at Bicycle Across South Carolina, a multi-day gravel ride that takes participants off road onto the scenic trails of the state. Boleska said there are also plans to volunteer at races in November.
Medalist Sports covered travel and lodging costs for Boleska and Elmore and also paid Elmore for his work during the weekend in Maine. In the past, Elmore and other sport management students have worked with major athletic organizations at events such as the Super Bowl and NCAA March Madness. In those cases, the students were a small part of enormous, complicated productions.
However, due to the smaller scale of the Dempsey Challenge, Elmore was able to take on a more prominent role in the production of the event and connect with the Lewiston community. For him, each day started at 3 a.m. to begin preparing for the races.
Elmore and other volunteers erected virtually the entire venue at Simard-Payne Park, including barricades, fences and tents.
“This was the first time that I set up a venue,” Elmore said. “I hadn’t done that anywhere else, and it was good to see where the pieces fell and why we were doing what we were doing.”
He also helped set up first aid and hydration stations, golf cart and EMS pathways and the start and finish lines. Sponsor activation – hanging sponsorship banners and backgrounds for photos – was another key task.
“To the outside world, it’s just a backdrop – it doesn’t really matter,” Boleska said. “When the title sponsor gives half a million dollars to the event to donate and to have their sponsorship everywhere, the backdrop with their logo on it 900 times in the background of every single picture is important.”
Other activities during the event ranged from whimsical to poignant. Attendees enjoyed dog and unicycle races, food trucks, beer and wine tastings and a concert stage. Elmore was excited to see community members come out to support the festivities, while Boleska found the survivor’s walk particularly moving.
“The survivor walk was super impactful when it happened,” she said. “It’s just one of those impactful moments that the whole town comes out for. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of day. It was cool that we got to be on the ground to see the results of our product. To see the people enjoy it was super cool.”
Ahead of the weekend, Elmore also set a goal to be more outgoing and proactive in networking. He’s naturally more introverted, but through the sport management program, he’s learned that experiences in the field are incredibly important for personal and professional development.
This is especially true as graduation approaches. Elmore is still weighing his options post-graduation but wants to continue to grow in the sports industry by building his resume and taking the best opportunity possible.
He accomplished his goal for the trip, going out of his way to mingle with other volunteers and speak with Dempsey Center board members who discussed the center’s history and its mission with him.
“I think being around a great group of people, I had a good opportunity to open up and be a little bit more outgoing,” he said. “I had a support system there that helped me grow as a person.”
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