25th Annual Against The Tide Fundraiser Saturday In Nickerson

by Rich Eldred
This year’s Against The Tide Swim-Run-Walk fundraiser will be held at Nickerson State Park Saturday. COURTESY PHOTO This year’s Against The Tide Swim-Run-Walk fundraiser will be held at Nickerson State Park Saturday. COURTESY PHOTO

BREWSTER – When Cheryl Osimo of Barnstable was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 41 in 1991, she wanted to do more than just beat the disease herself.

“If only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer is hereditary, what is causing all the breast cancer? It has to be something in the environment. It has to,” she said. “So someone has to do this work and we’re proud to be doing it. Whatever we find is going to help find out what is causing other cancers. We’re striving to do good and create a better world for our children and grandchildren.”

She is now the executive director of the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, an organization she joined after her diagnosis. She became a board member in 1992 and served until 2003 when she became the executive director. During that time she came up with the idea of the Against The Tide Swim-Run-Walk fundraiser at Nickerson State Park. This Saturday, June 8, will mark the 25th such event at Nickerson.

Registration begins at 7 a.m. at Fisherman’s Landing on Cliff Pond. Opening remarks, warmups and the National Anthem proceed the actual event at 8 a.m.

The MBCC focuses on environmental causes of breast cancer through research, advocacy and policy changes.

“In 1991 I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Osimo recalled. “The Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition was founded in 1991 by a group of women who thought there was a missing piece to the puzzle and they wanted to focus on how to prevent breast cancer before it starts. I was invited to a meeting and I went and it changed my life.”

She still lives in Barnstable with her husband; her daughter lives on Cape as well. From the start she was the chief publicist for the Swim-Run-Walk event at Nickerson.

There was already a similar event at Hopkinton State Park, which is now in its 32nd year.

“That was founded (in 1993) by Maria Vetrano after her mother died of breast cancer,” Osimo said. “It started as just a swim. She moved on and I took over the event and it evolved into a run, walk and swim. It was so well received in Hopkinton, the first was actually at Walden Pond, I said why not do one on the Cape?”

Up until the Covid outbreak the event included a kayak paddle as well.

“It’s a beautiful location,” Osimo said. “The park is beautiful. We have lifeguards from the National Seashore. Food from Dunkin’ Donuts and Laurino’s Tavern (and many other sponsors), music for the kids.”

The swim events include a U.S. Masters Swimming-sanctioned one-mile swim, a competitive one-mile swim or a recreational half-mile or mile swim. That’s followed by USA Track and Field sanctioned 5K and 10K runs and a three-mile fitness walk.

The following weekend, on June 15, the Hopkinton edition takes place. Registration is open at mbc.org/swim .

All those who participate in person (there is a virtual event as well) receive a T-shirt and bag of swag. Prizes will be given out to top finishers in the swim and runs as well as the top fundraising teams and individuals. Registration is $40 per person per athletic component and $20 for virtual participation.

This year the Nickerson swim is at Fisherman’s Landing on Cliff Pond. In the past, Against the Tide was held at Flax Pond in August, but the park is more crowded and officials asked the MBCC to change the date to June. So this is a first.

“In the past we’ve had 300 participants, over 400 with spectators. This year it might be smaller because it’s earlier,” Osimo said. “I hope people will join us, for it will be an inspirational morning with a focus on the mission of cancer prevention.”

Osimo also co-founded the Silent Spring Institute, a group that studies the environmental causes of cancer and is now focused on emerging contaminants in groundwater, chemicals that are found in extremely small amounts such as PFAS. That’s a research group; the MBCC is about advocacy.

The two Against the Tides are the MBCC’s biggest fundraisers, bringing in a few hundred thousand dollars in most years.

“We’re very active in environmental justice work,” she said. “We have Let’s Talk presentations in 11 languages. We’re the state’s largest breast cancer organization.”

This year longtime volunteers Ali Crockett and her sister Vi Fellman will be honored for years of work. Feldman is a retired paramedic with the Chatham Fire Department.

The money that is raised supports MBCC’s educational programs such as Let’s Talk Prevention: Reducing Toxic Exposures and Actions You Can Take; their webinar series; and student environmental health program.

“I’m happy to be doing this work,” Osimo declared. “We’re an advocacy organization. We have free online modules for middle schools and elementary schools and teachers all over the country have started downloading them. We’re working with UMass Boston to translate them into Spanish.”

The MBCC has seen breast cancer declared an epidemic in Massachusetts, laws passed around mammograms, and other health bills passed. Thanks to events like Against The Tide, they’ll have the resources to continue pressing for more research on the causes and prevention of cancer.