August 4, 2018
Gingerbeard
By Andréa Maria Cecil
Dempsey talks about his beard and his mom.
Dempsey talks about his beard and his mom.

He’s the man with the beard.

“Everybody knows me. It’s kinda my thing,” said Jeff Dempsey, whose dark-ginger beard covers his nipples.

It all started more than three years ago, when Dempsey decided to play along with a No-Shave November challenge. He had missed qualifying for the 2014 CrossFit Games by a thin margin but made it in 2015—when he had the beard.

Once that happened, his decision was set: “Since I made the Games, I’m gonna keep it.”

It’s become his signature piece that elicits instant recognition, including photo requests from strangers. But such celebrity requires work. Beard work.

“It’s treated like a woman’s hair,” explained the competitor in the CrossFit Games Masters 50-54 Division. “It’s washed. It’s shampooed. It’s oiled. It’s relaxed. It’s combed. It’s cut.”

And it’s not without its challenges.

Rope climbs and kettlebell swings, for example, are no friends to Dempsey’s beard.

“The hair gets stuck in my armpits.”

Jeff Dempsey
Jeff Dempsey during P.S.

Although he enjoys the recognition his facial follicles bring, there is one scenario in which he would consider shaving: fundraising for cancer research.

It’s a reason that goes deep.

Dempsey’s mother is dying of lung cancer.

A lifelong smoker, the 5-foot-7 woman now weighs 80 lb. She barely eats and is under part-time hospice care at home. She still smokes.

“I might not make it back in time to see her again—it’s that bad,” he explained.

Since he’s been in Madison, Wisconsin, Dempsey has texted, called or used FaceTime to communicate with his mother every day.

“She wanted me here,” he said.

His first order of business when he gets back to Florida after the Games: Go see his mother.

“She’s everything to me. She’s what made me good and what made me bad.”

He added: “I’m hoping she makes it.”