When did you first feel connected to cycling?
As a kid, I lived in the middle of nowhere, so if you wanted to go into town you had to ride a bike. Later, I got my first good bike—a white and red Schwinn Le Tour with stem-mounted gear levers. Then I got a mountain bike and a BMX bike, and wound up building trails all around the house. (Search: Find the best bike for you)
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But eventually acting pulled you away from riding. What has it been like returning to cycling as an adult?
Psychologically, getting back on the bike really helped me. It was hard to weather the success of Grey’s, but I found I could go for a ride and get centered. Cycling also taught me a lot about managing discomfort. When you leave your comfort zone, you learn how to manage your emotions and to stay focused. (Learn how you can keep your cool and Overcome the Most Common Cycling Obstacles.)
I’ve heard your wife has taken up riding. Do you two go out training together?
Riding has been the best thing for my marriage. My wife is really fit—she drops me all the time—but I get her on the descents. On the bike, we can get a workout and a therapy session. When you’re on a ride, you calm down, you start to breathe, then you start to be clearer about your thought processes and what’s bothering you; it just floats up to the surface.
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You’re close with pros like Tom Danielson and Levi Leipheimer. In fact, you seem tighter with cycling stars than stars here in Hollywood. Why?
We all came from small towns, broke away, and had success in our professions. It’s nice to have that community, that fellowship. I never feel like I totally fit in here. Hollywood is always posturing; it’s a place that doesn’t allow people to open up because others will prey on it. (Read more about Patrick Dempsey’s collaboration with pro Tom Danielson.)
You hang out and train with those guys, and help each other at charitable events. Have you ever seen them race in person?
Yeah, I went to the US Pro Challenge last summer, and I couldn’t get over the pace. I got a much greater appreciation of the beauty of the sport. There’s a poetry in it, when you’re that close to so many competitors and you’re dancing with them.
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You already own an auto-racing team. Would you fund a cycling team?
If I were a team owner in cycling, it would be a women’s team. There’s a great story happening and it’s just not being seen. They need bigger sponsorship and more events. And it’s important for women to see other women racing.
You seem pretty serious as a rider—you’re leaner, training with pros, shaving your legs. Do you have goals as a cyclist?
Yes, leg shaving has done wonders for my riding; now that I’m celibate it’s easier to focus on my training plans. Seriously, I want to ride a century; that’s my goal. My longest ride so far is 75 miles.
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You’ve got a lot going on outside your day job. What’s next?
I’d love to open a bike shop in Malibu that’s a hangout for cyclists. There’s nothing like that out here. Tommy, Levi, and I have fantasized about it; I just need to find a space that would allow me to break even. I really want to create some community for local cyclists.
A lot of these projects seem to be about building community—whether it’s for riders or people with cancer. What’s behind that?
Since I was young, I’ve loved belonging to something. You can get that on a bike, especially if you’re riding for a cause. There’s a huge desire for community and purpose—so many people feel alone and isolated. In my case, I need to do something positive with my visibility. Getting involved in cycling and the Dempsey Center was a turning point for me. My life has had more direction after that.