I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike

Mary Cain’s male coaches were convinced she had to get “thinner, and thinner, and thinner.” Then her body started breaking down.

Comments: 205

  1. Great article and video. Mary Cain relates her story in a very composed and compelling manner that shows not only her courage and thoughtfulness in speaking out, but her determination to do what she can to make a change for future generations of young women athletes. Great job, Mary! I hope more women athletes join you in changing the system to protect girls and women in sports. Health issues for women are different than those of men. That needs to be better understood and recognized.

  2. @Carol Mary is a hero for her courage to speak up in a professional and compelling manner. A bright light shined on darkness always sends the darkness away. Keep shinning Mary!

  3. Funny how much abuse is seen in elite level athletics, from sexual abuse of girls, to the story here. We have heard other women speak about how pregnancy is not accommodated. Since we want girls and women to have normal lives, including falling in love and forming families, it is so sad that Nike, which makes a brand of sports excellence, cannot try to understand women.

  4. @Terry McKenna Of course, we all tend to pay money in recognition of those in sports who live extraordinary lives, not those who live normal lives. Until we pay to see ordinary people fall in love and raise families, I think we will see more people pushed, and pushing themselves, beyond normal.

  5. I remember Mary from her 'phenom' years and am so sorry to hear that she had to endure this with Nike. Hopefully this story is shared far and wide as it stands as a warning to all younger female athletes and their parents that are hoping to compete at the 'next level'. Whether intentional or not, this misguided attitude towards training young females likely permeates many sports. Good luck in your next chapter, Mary. I hope you find your love of running again and show them how it should be done.

  6. I'm an "old" guy now, but when I was a teen in high school I was a good, even exceptional athlete that had miserable coaches and at the age of 17 said enough. I loved sports and could play any I undertook at a high level as I learned, My coaches were a group of generally ignorant men who had never grown up. My best coach was a neighbor man who had his own problems, possibly was a alcoholic, but the one season he was an assistant coach in baseball treated kids with kindness and respect. As a senior in high school I left organized sports, still played informally--basketball pick-up games well into middle age and later, tennis, even golf with a friend who liked golf. I eventually could play in the 50's on a par-3 course. At the age of 43 I took up weightlifting and eventually posted a 415 pound bench press, but I decided never to compete formally. I'm still lifting weights in my 70's. Mary Cain is a brave woman, I like this article very much. As in all things, the more complex, bigger, and moneyed anything is, including sports, the more damaging it is. We need more people like her with insight, courage, and independence.

  7. I applaud your courage, Mary Cain. Thank you for making this statement, and speaking up. It was exciting to watch your success as a young runner, and puzzling to see that change. Now it is obvious that you were treated shabbily by men who tried to use your talent to their gain. Shame on them. I hope you’re in a much more caring, and happier place now.

  8. So Nike hired a charismatic man to run an elite athletic training program and they had no nutritionist or psychologist in the program. Why would that be considered an elite program? Maybe Nike was too cheap to have a separate program for women. Or maybe, (like MSU with Larry Nassar) they put all their trust in the coach's reputation and were only interested in results- turning their backs on the methods used to achieve fame and glory for the Nike brand. Things need to change in the world of athletics in order to stop the chewing up and spitting out of so many young athletes and their dreams.

  9. It’s ridiculous to compare Nassar to Salazar. Salazar was doing what many female coaches still do in this country. His weight loss fixation is very prevalent among coaches from both genders

  10. @Shelley The comparisons to USA Gymnastics and the win at all costs mentality is striking.

  11. @Shelley Fat male athletes are encouraged (tolerated) and perform at the highest levels only in Sumo, certain (US) football positions, and weight-lifting. Why would anyone expect it to be different for elite female athletes?

  12. Mary, First off, I’m sorry and sad to read you went through this. Your story will help young women in sports everywhere. You know it’s more important to live a life of truth than win at any cost. I am so impressed by your strength. Thank you for sharing your story.

  13. Congratulations to Mary for breaking the stronghold that a commercial business called Nike had over her. What Nike has done to athlete after athlete is unforgivable. The relentless, non-stop pressure that Nike forced onto athletes to jump higher, run faster, and win, win, win more and more and more, is unforgivable. Nike deserves to have a significant cut into their only bottom line - profit. Hopefully, the American public will read more and more about Mary's story, and the story of countless others who've been crunched, squished and thrown to the wayside by this corporation.

  14. I’m a retired physical therapist who worked with many athletes, including in track and field. I was also involved with some of the top sports organizations and governing bodies. Of course, there are some very good ,devoted coaches . But coaches rule and many of them were relying on old systems and beliefs. Many were not interested in opinions from nutritionists, biologists, doctors and other medical staff. They may have even allowed us to talk to athletes about medical and health recommendations . But we learned, they basically told the athletes to ignore our advice if they wanted to compete at their best levels. I also see the same in the ballet world. There are certainly exceptions . I hope coaches and supporters listen to Mary Cain’s revelations and recognize it is way past time to make changes .

  15. @Marilyn Roofher Exactly. I’m stunned how these coaches seem to have little understanding of science and the human body. For instance, in her video Mary mentions being told to take diruretics. What sane distance coach wants his runners to lose weight by dehydrating themselves and thinks they will perform better? Being dehydrated is one of the best ways to ruin your running performance. That’s well known. Any gain you might think a runner will get from carrying less weight will be negated by the effects of dehydration. What were these guys thinking?

  16. @SkL Diuretics are classified as performance enhancing drugs by WADA and are banned...

  17. @SkL I believe she was competing in 800m races, 2 laps around the track. Presumptively the diuretics were a pre race regimen to drop weight quickly, and then rehydrate immediately after. Despite the short distance, and time, approximately 2:02 - 2:05 (guessing), I agree, it still poses a health risk.

  18. Mary, thank you for sharing your story. It is heartbreaking and powerful. Sports, like so many other disciplines and areas of our life, need to understand that girls, women and our bodies, have enormous strength and ability just the way they were designed. I hope you are able to regain the strength, health and vitality you once had before this program. Your voice is essential and I am grateful for your willingness to share it!

  19. Thank you Mary. Speaking about what you endured is courageous and your courage will help many. I am so glad you are lucky enough to have parents who believed you and gave you the right advice. Can you imagine if your entire family's hopes and dreams depended on you? The pressure that young elite athletes face is huge. I hope you will consider becoming a coach and mentor.

  20. You are a real hero. Thank you for shedding light.

  21. Kelly Catlin. Silver at the Olympics and then suicide at 23. Mary Cain, also 23 considered suicide. Two people do not a trend make yet I also wonder if there are not similarities within these and other elite athletic programs. The reality is that athletic careers are short yet businesses and organizations go on and on and on. The net of that fact is that athletes are disposable. It's true in football and track and cycling and basketball and just about every elite sport. Those who coach and control and manage those sports, well, they go on and on and on. Who's making the BIG money? It is not the athlete.

  22. This has somehow been turned into a gender issue rather than a writ large exploitation of young athletes. In my opinion, equality becomes more difficult when there is a universal issue affecting both males and females equally (or, in this case, young males are likely much more exploited) and it is turned into a gender issue.

  23. It is actually a gendered issue. While young men are exploited in many systems like this, the running community repeats, and nauseam, that girls' bodies peak younger, and that their windows (especially before college) are compact. That's why "coaches" like Salazar seek out high school girls for these teams, but post-college-aged men as well. This belief lacks strong scientific backing, but the success of many young women lets the belief continue. And let it be clear that Nike went to bat for Salazar to land Mary in his program. Nike negotiated for months to try and get Mary at their high school nationals race, and not New Balance's, all to scheme Mary onto Salazar's team. Nike and Salazar thought they had a young woman they could use, or at least exploit and dispose of, and they did all they could to wring every dollar from her body that they could. They don't, haven't, and wouldn't have done the same to the top boys in the country.

  24. Of course, the real victims here are men, right?

  25. @Southwest 1965 It is not "turned into a gender issue." It is a gender issue because girls's and women's bodies are different and have different needs than boy's and men's. What is healthy for men is presumed--by men--as being healthy for girls and women. They are ignorant (don't know) and arrogant (didn't research it for themselves, didn't question themselves, didn't listen, refused to see). I'm guessing you didn't listen to the video or read the article. Equality isn't everyone having the same thing. It's everyone having what they need. For example-if you believe "gender issues" such as this don't exist here, do you think boys need to have their periods taken into account when coming up with a nutritional system? Is it a sign that something is wrong if a boy doesn't get a period for three years? Crazy, huh? It's just as crazy when you assert "universal issues" as deriving from the male experience. YOU are then making it a gender thing by, like the coaches, ignoring or discounting the experience of women. Half the population. Women are tired of being treated like we are "anomalies" to the norm.

  26. While not wanting to sound naive, it is terrible to learn that even something like Women's Track and Field is dominated by caustic men who have a "my way or the highway" attitude. Listening to Mary Cain in this video was heartbreaking. And to discover how she suffered under this spirit crushing program makes me angry at Nike and Salazar. But mostly it makes me sad to know how this program injured Mary. I hope Mary can go forward and be a positive force for change in this sport and all sports that women compete in.

  27. Another example where the corporation and greed rule overy everything else. The reason the Nike team has only men who are friends of the manager is that Nike does not want anyone else interfering with the process. Nutritionists and psychologists are not welcome. This story indicates that nothing has changed in the exploitation of athletes, especially women.

  28. I have been wondering what happened to Mary. Now I know. I am glad to learn she had the courage to step away from this system before it was too late. That took a lot of courage. I wish her well. Amazing athlete and, clearly, an amazing young woman.

  29. A powerful piece. Hopefully it’ll lead to real change.

  30. Ms. Cain, it sounds, was treated brutally by a bad coach in an uncaring environment. Neither the video nor the accompanying text contain evidence, statistics or data of any sort to support the much wider charge that her maltreatment was the result of systemic, deliberate gender bias. This does not mean her allegations are untrue. But it does mean that the reporting team has more work to do.

  31. @MWR I guess thats why they are interviewing all of the athletes in the program? Because many of the staff at the Nike program were Salazar devotees it will be hard to say what was the "bad coach effect" vs a systematic problem. Maybe that's the lesson - checks and balances on the leaders?

  32. The gender issue isn’t what was done to a young female athlete because she was a woman. The gender issue is what happens when you have an all male group in power.

  33. You didn't mention how long you have been working for Nike.

  34. my heart breaks for this girl. i hope she is still able to have the running career that she dreamed of, if that's what she still wants.

  35. @sparty b She's 23 years old, making her an adult.

  36. Guess I will not be buying NIKE until they change. They just lost my business. As a female who had to endure the good ol boy system, I will say no to this company and encourage other women AND men to stop supporting NIKE.

  37. @Oh My Last time I bought a Nike’s product was 2012. Since discovering the Swiss brand ON I have never looked back, GREAT stuff!

  38. As a very experienced runner I can tell you Nike running shoes are no good. They are nothing but fashion. Many other brands are better.

  39. My thoughts exactly.

  40. Did anybody really think of Nike as the 'good guy' corporation? It's all about money and image. Period.

  41. Where were Mary's parents? They let her turn pro when she was in H.S.Too many times parents and athletes see$$$ and don't think about long term consequences .We've all read numerous stories about teenage phenoms in all sports who end up damaged physically and emotionally, and yet it keeps happening.Everyone thinks they'll be different and it won't happen to them,but it does.

  42. @TJ That's not accurate. Re-watch the video and you'll hear Cain state that she moved out to train with Salazar when she was a freshman in college. At that point she was not living under her parents' roof any longer. Cain says that as soon as her parents learned about what was going on, they got her on the first flight home, and she quit the team.

  43. @mm She did the same thing Alan Webb did, with basically the same results.How many teenagers are equipped to handle the full time job of being a pro athlete?

  44. Thanks Ms. Cain for sharing your story. How tragic that those that should have guided you at Nike only exploited. Yet your strength prevailed. The win at all costs mentality is manifested in other athletic realms, or rather costs paid by the athletes, not the old male abusers. When I read a 19 year old Maryland football player suffered heat stroke in 2018, and later died, I thought how crazy is it to select for youth that weigh 325 lbs. Then force them to practice in heat, with inadequate medical supervision. Glad to know Ms. Cain you are in the lead, may you lead us in a healthier direction for many, many decades to come.

  45. Having been somewhat of an all-around super athlete as a young woman I am sadly never surprised when these stories come out. It wasn’t until I was much older and talking with former teammates that I realized how vile and manipulative the coach/athlete relationship can be. Young women (and men, surely) are taught to worship their coaches, and if you have an ounce of talent you are almost immediately isolated and forced into an intimate relationship that can become quickly inappropriate on myriad levels. Mary: I am deeply empathetic to your story and greatly impressed by your courage to come forward.

  46. It is an easy step to demonize all coaches because of the failures of one. A more rational approach would first recognize that most coaches of young people care very much for them. However whenever the individual athletes are caught up in the win at any cost for fame and/or fortune phenomenon, it is time to apply strict scrutiny to all individuals involved. Stop the quick jump to making the General out of the specific lest we d story the whole system of mentoring.

  47. So powerful. What a brave and smart young woman. And how sad that this kind of treatment went (and continues) unacknowledged. We desperately need women taking care of young women. Women's bodies are very different from men's. The damaging fact that she was expected to lose weight at such a young age when she hadn't even finished growing, reflected in the loss of her period, is abusive. I admire this young woman for speaking out publicly and sincerely hope she can rise above it all and be everything she is capable of. Best of luck, Mary! And thank you for giving a powerful voice to this issue.

  48. It's certainly a sad personal story, but until we pay ours sports entertainment and product dollars to support athletes who are slow or otherwise lose, rather than athletes who are fast and otherwise win, it is hard to imagine a stop to self-sacrifice of this sort. All professional athletes who reach prominence, and many who try and fail, do so at great personal cost of all different types. Indeed, all professionals who reach prominence, and many who try and fail … not just athletes … also take on personal risks in doing so. In the end, if Mary Cain could have eaten more and run faster, I assume both she and Nike would have supported that. And if she had wanted to not run faster and not take Nike's money, she was free to do that.

  49. Imagine, George, that Nike might have, in this case, preferred thin to win.

  50. @Artie Isaac That does not ring true to me, but maybe. Lots of companies like to promote the image of thinness, and they pay people to be thin in furtherance of that goal. My company pays me to work as hard as I can including staying up all night for days on end to get deals done. That is not good for my health, but I like the money and I can quit if I want.

  51. @Artie Isaac Preferring thinness is endemic to whom?

  52. Wow, I remember following all of Mary's races throughout high school, as she was breaking all those records. She was a NYS legend, and I was so incredibly astonished when she went pro at the same time I was just getting sort of serious about running. I'm sorry I ever stopped searching for her name. She was an icon then, and she will continue to be one now. Here's to your next 6 years!

  53. I dont know how all articles now about gender/race/income/etc disparity. The sports "winner mentality" has nothing to do with gender but rather about a society that places elite athletes on media and financial pedestals redirecting an enormous army of darwinism on youth whose parents believe they are blessed with the next star. The same can be said for Hollywood. The minuscule chance of success coupled with profound cost in lifetime opportunity for those that fail to achieve is the true tragedy regardless of sex, race or income. If the same efforts were placed in academic pursuits, the outcomes would be predictably far better. Yet, I see so many people that I know living vicariously through their children and doing them a great disservice.

  54. @Chris It's the same mindset that until recently ruled in medicine that the male body is the 'typical' body and the female body is a variant that is not worthy of study or understanding in its own right. Most scientific studies of athletes in the past used male subjects because of those pesky hormones that women have.

  55. I'm no athlete but I follow track and field a bit. There have been many times I've heard Ms. Cain's name used as the example that the best younger female athletes don't become the best adult athletes because their bodies change. I never believed it and now we know the real story. Thank you for your courage to speak out and I hope a female-fronted pro sports force emerges that will change this story.

  56. I'm not sure what we expect at this level of self sacrifice and competition. it sounds like Salazar was an ineffective coach, not someone to be demonized. please show me the D1 football or basketball coach that isn't wringing everything out of their players and destroying some in the process.

  57. @sb Salazar is a lot of things, an ineffective coach is not one of them. Farah, Rupp, Sifan Hassan, Yomif Kejelcha, Centrowitz, Donovan Brazier - world records, world championship golds, silvers, and bronzes, Olympic golds, silvers, and bronzes. The training group sounds like it was brutal and single minded in it's pursuit. If you want to be the best in the world at something, you better be prepared for brutality and single mindedness, because there are plenty out there who are.

  58. @Ian Training smart and training hard are not the same thing. In my view, your comment confuses the two. It is quite obvious that with respect to Mary Cain, the NOP took a course that was hard but not smart. And that's perhaps the most charitable way to say it.

  59. @sb Your last sentence is doing what the article pointed out is wrong: using methods for male bodies to judge how female bodies should be treated. Stop.

  60. As a former athlete and mother to a runner close in age to Mary, I followed her phenomenal rise in the sport with admiration. Here was a naturally gifted, poised young woman running with joy. Her smile after races was contagious. Over the last few years I occasionally googled Miss Cain to see how she was, or where she was. Nothing. I worried that she was abused by the Nike system as reported by Kara Gaucher. Thank you for sharing your story Mary Cain. The strength it took to do this video must mean you’re on the right track now and I look forward to seeing your smile again.

  61. The video shows a birth control pill called Lo Loestrin Fe. If Mary was on this pill, she would not have gotten periods, or only very light ones. The question is whether she had no period because she was underweight, or whether she had no period because she was on this birth control pill. If the latter, that would’ve been no problem, however if she had no period because she was not eating enough, that is of course dangerous for bone health. If she had five breaks, that would indicate bone loss. I read in another article that it is a well-known phenomenon that female runners who are fast in high school almost never are successful as runners later on. The article ventured to explain this with the fact that female bodies change dramatically in the interim. It therefore makes a lot of sense to have future talented female runners coached by female coaches, or to have at least support from female coaches, nutritionists and psychologists at the disposal of the female athletes. And, as always, heed the age old advise: slow and steady wins the race.

  62. @Shield Most women have periods on Lo Loestrin Fe. It isn't designed to stop your period

  63. Of course the bigger issue is the system. But on another level, more scrutiny should be paid to individuals who have influence over kids. Programs designed for youth are all dependent on those who lead them. Parents, whenever possible, reasonably find out about your child's coaches, music teachers, tutors, extracurricular activities leaders--whoever spends time with your kids in significant ways and can have undo influence over them. Sure, performance and expertise of the coaches/teachers/leaders are important, but equally important is the ability to show care for the well being of young people under them, to model character and integrity, healthy perspectives--to value good moral and ethical lessons and choices through their work in their chosen field. When you find a coach or leader who not only is successful in their field, but has a reputation for integrity and actually values and lives out these other aspects--that person is a gem. Talk to other parents, kids, and to the individual leader themselves to get a better perspective on how they run their program--while you may not be able to prevent all abuse, it can prevent a lot.

  64. The fact that her coach was a male has nothing to do with the way she was treated. A female coach would have been expected to follow the same erroneous mindset about body development etc. Just read the headline and remove the word male and you’ll realize that remains perfectly descriptive and adequate. Most men are not awful, like most women. Can we focus on variables that mean something instead? In this case, getting a female coach would not have made a difference.

  65. @Diogo Machado I don't see where it says anything about that (In the article, I haven't watched the video). It does say "A big part of this problem is that women and girls are being forced to meet athletic standards that are based on how men and boys develop." but it doesn't say that male coaches only do that.

  66. No. Her point that there needs to be more women in power is right on. In a system that is designed and ruled by men, the fact that they are all men is not something you can get away from until you change it.

  67. @Diogo Machado well, Diogo, it's easy for you to speculate on what a female coach would do, but it's all hypothetical isn't it because there were no female coaches in this scenario.

  68. I never understood the infatuation with Salazar. People tend to fixate on a handful of amazing races he ran and neglect the fact that his training style caused him to crash and burn, ultimately fading from elite running. He brought the same reckless style to his coaching and ran more than a few excellent US running prospects into the ground. None of this surprises me. What surprises me is how he was allowed to coach for so long without anyone putting their foot down.

  69. @Jonny he almost killed himself when he won the Boston Marathon in 1982.

  70. Thank you for speaking out. I think your career will not be so short after all. This is hardly analogous - but What about guys who tell you how to workout? I had a boyfriend who would tell me to lift heavy weights whereas I preferred lighted weights and Pilates. He'd also monitor my portion sizes.

  71. @JES That sounds like an abusive relationship. I am glad to see you say that you "had" (not "have") a boyfriend who tied to control you. Bravo to you for getting out.

  72. Good lord. Very happy to see your usage of the past tense "had."

  73. Depression can be a sign of poor nutrition, of the brain not getting enough nutrients, especially fatty acids. There is also evidence now of the intestinal microbiome influencing inflammation and moods. To achieve a healthy microbiome you need real food, not processed energy bars.

  74. @Bamagirl I agree with you, but that's your takeaway from this post?

  75. I am profoundly grateful to Mary for sharing her story; my hope for her is that she will understand her strength and power (this story demonstrates that she has that in abundance). As a middle-aged person, I reflect on how I grew up - participating in three sports/year; only a few outliers in my class focused on only one sport. I watched my own children grow up in a totally different world where the cost to even get on a mediocre high school team was year-round focus (camps, travel teams, off-season practice). The whole system is designed around adults who make money off of young bodies. As a parent, you often don't know how to proceed - you believe that sports/physical activity are a huge component of overall mental and physical health but you don't want to be part of an ecosystem that you know to be rotten. This is a systemic issue and casting blame on anyone other than the people/companies at the top serves only to diffuse the problem and scuttle discussions about reform. And then there is the issue of an all-male coaching staff - what could possibly go wrong?? So - thank you Mary for bravely telling your story; you have made a difference in the world.

  76. @Jocelyn here here! You’ve said it perfectly. My own experiences as a young female athlete have left me hesitant to encourage my daughters to be part of this world.

  77. @Jocelyn Indeed some of these issues are not unique to professional sports. I was a mediocre (at best) cross country and track athlete in high school 20 years ago. But my team overall was good, so we were competitive for district and state titles that my coach really wanted us to win. And we had one runner who was competitive on the national level. She was very clearly unhealthily underweight, but our coach and others explained this as a "runner's body" and obviously anyone running so well could not be ill in any way. This mentality spreads like wildfire among impressionable teenage girls. I remember throwing up before a workout and my coach praising me in front of the team for being so dedicated that I was running while sick. I'm so happy I quit running before I finished high school. I fell back in love with it in my late 20s and have made so many wonderful friends through local running clubs. Unfortunately most of my former teammates completely quit the sport and our star runner only ran 1 or 2 races in college because she ended up with OVER 10 stress fractures.

  78. @Jocelyn So true! I'm the parent of two boys who played different sports. The soccer player (obsessed since he was three) always was told more more more. And for many years he was simply joyful on the field. Yet I worried. 9th grade I could see the joy disappearing. 10th grade he quit. Only now in college is he finding his love of the game again (intramurals). Contrast that to my other son who discovered distance running as a Freshman. It was such a different experience...all about team and very kid driven. He graduated HS with his love of running intact. Frankly, I think it is the adults who have destroyed sports for kids.

  79. Thank you for speaking out. Very eloquent and very brave.

  80. Watching your story unfold was hard for me to keep my tears in check. I am so glad you have spoken out against Nike and their enforcers to produce a winning product at any cost. And, you are fortunate to have such supportive and knowledgeable parents. My thought now is, why don’t you become a coach? You understand excellence and the caring formula needed to nurture it. You are young. You have have great things ahead of you. Thank you for sharing your story and thank the Times for understanding the importance of it.

  81. This is inexcusable. I will not look at Nike shoes that same way now.

  82. @Jean Agreed! I was about to purchase a pair and I decided not to because of this article.

  83. Thank you, brave woman. Wish you well in your future endeavors, whatever form they take. With this message alone you have accomplished so much at such a young age. I'm twice your age and can no longer run, which may well be due at least partially to obsessive running and under eating in my younger years. I hope medicine and culture directs more resources to prevent other women from similar struggles.

  84. Thank you NYT for sharing her story. @MaryCain shows incredible strength in being able to overcome severe mental stress and not succumb to her pain. She’ll be a hero and leader to developing athletes.

  85. Mary Cain, you are a brave one. I salute your courage and stand with you. Thank you for daring to share your story and stand up the Nike Masculinist Machine. You are helping the next generation of young female runners.

  86. Mary, How powerfully brave you are. The number of elite women running colleagues who are applauding you are more than you could ever imagine. In one way or another, a very large population of elite women runners have experienced some version of your experience. You are not alone.

  87. High level sports is only about the money and not about the individual. Young people's time horizon is so short, they cannot envision the medical or emotional problems which may occur later in life (after 30!). In many, most, every? case, they should play the sport only for personal enjoyment, realizing the sole purpose in going to college is to get an education for securing their livelihood in the future.

  88. @Mark Back in the 90s when the stories of baseball players using PEDS were breaking, I heard a hitting coach for a minor league team say he had tried to warn the players on his team about the possible long term health risks of using these. These were players mostly in their early 20s and he said that generally their response was that their goal was to make the majors and they'd do whatever they had to to get their. As to the health risks, their response was they weren't going to worry about something that might cause them problems 20 or more years later. To them this seemed like an infinity.

  89. The existing system, and in particular Nike and Salazar, have clearly failed to treat these young athletes (especially women) with the respect that they are due. They are ruining the lives of our best athletes in pursuit of their own ambitions. Kudos to Mary for stepping up and stepping out. Her courage, and talent, are admirable and I wish her good fortune as she pursues her running career. And the sport will vastly benefit from experienced women coaching the rising talented young women athletes. Seeing Shalane Flannigan announcing her evolution to coach is encouraging as I imagine that she will better understand the needs and welfare of yound women.

  90. Nike captured this girl as a teenager and sent her to the Oregon Project I understand the desire to win but at that point, this was a 19 -year-old kid. Unlike a sport like, say, baseball or basketball, where you can see the results (you throw 95 MPH or you make three point shots at a high rate vs. peers), in running, you cannot see immediate results. But like other sports, over time, your body wears down when you run at such an elite level. There is tremendous push to get the results for the athlete and her investors immediately. I hope Mary uses her straight-A background and goes back to college and joins the coaching world.

  91. Nike is just about money. The notion that there must be a best shoe for every different activity? And that this year's new version is better that last year's? Hype. The ancient Greek Olympian athletes did not wear shoes. Or anything else. But they were exalted and often well rewarded in their communities and society. The definition of sport: "an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment." The problem is the monetization of that entertainment. Sports is something people do for fun.

  92. Kudos to Mary, a lovely, brave woman for sharing such an emotional, personal story. Mary you have done a great deal for women's sports and made us all very proud of you.

  93. Mary Cain, I believe you. Your voice, bravery and resilience are more important than any running accomplishment could ever be. Thank you.

  94. Thank you Mary for being brave enough to come forward. It is awful that you and other young women had to endure that kind of emotional and physical treatment. After seeing this video I am more committed than ever to support the teenaged girls I coach. Girls are not boys and coaches need to act accordingly.

  95. How is it possible that Nike doesn’t have a nutritionist and sports psychologist on staff? I played elite women’s soccer, 20 years ago, and these positions were standard and an accepted part of your training regimen. It boggles my mind that they aren’t leveraging those disciplines.

  96. Mary, you are so brave and smart to share your story, acknowledging that athletes need support that is not just physical but psychological. Also, that Nike is replicating a harmful patriarchy by using women to sell shoes and gear with no regard for their health or wellbeing. I’m glad you took control of your situation and spoke out. Keep running and inspiring. Sport is so important in our culture and what you can do with your body is phenomenal.

  97. I know nothing about the Nike Running Program and less about Alberto Salazar’s management of it. However, I find myself wondering if we are simply witnessing the breakdown of a competitive system, too focused on “getting better at any cost,” and too little concerned about, or ignorant of our bodies, our sexual/physical differences and our capacity for “redlining” the entire athletic enterprise. I wonder if we know what we imagine we do, or we are playing far too “loose” with individuals who are simply interested in improving, not at being an experiment in a program inadequately tethered to the physical sciences of bodily function! I would be curious for us all to see the risk avoidance waivers athletes are asked to sign by Nike program administrators.

  98. @Jon Gilmore - a part of the real problematic "breakdown" happened almost 2 thousand years ago, when the Vatican in Europe decided to wage a Holy and slanderous war on women and Paganism. Male attitudes around the world turn women into baby-making work slaves because they are not as strong, but this is finally changing...

  99. I think this story is SO sad and disturbing! My goodness, with all that exercise that these female athletes get, how would anyone believe that they could overeat? I mean, yes, they need good, healthy nutrition, and no junk food - but to make them feel that they need to lose weight to be able to be a successful athlete? That is so wrong! Muscle weighs more than fat anyway - how can you go entirely by weight and be accurate? My best wishes and prayers go out to you, Mary Cain. Thank you for sharing your story. May it help those female athletes in the future to not be victimized.

  100. @Misty Martin... Well said Misty... to learn how this brave and talented athlete was being victimized is horrific! Salazar should be banned for LIFE... once a cheater (abuser)... always a cheater (abuser).

  101. The truth is that most of the established systems in this country discriminate against and abuse women. The lack of females in authority in all sectors of America, government, corporations, health care, education lead to the continued abuse, emotional and physical, of women in the workforce. The fact that we don't have a required, paid 6 month maternity leave for all women is just one example. This young woman is brave to speak out; all of us, in all sectors, need to speak out loudly and clearly about the needs of women in the workforce whether it be in athletics, law, medicine, education, manufacturing, housekeeping or whatever women participate in that makes life in this country work.

  102. What a difficult story to read. If the end result will slow down the Nike dominance, that will be good news. If the story leads to a repair of the incorrect or slanted training regimens, all the better. Ultimately, I hope that Mary Cain can happily return to her running career with success, but more importantly, do so in good health.

  103. Parents take heed. Educate yourselves on what constitutes proper health and fitness practices and learn to read the warning signs, especially for bodies that are still developing. Be there for your kids. If you don't do it no one else will.

  104. Mary, thank you for your calm bravery and honesty. Count me on YOUR team! Healthy, powerful, rational and strong.

  105. @Susan Well said, Susan. I too am team Mary!

  106. You are so brave for speaking up and sharing your story - thank you!

  107. One irony here is that distance running is not a bodyweight category sport specialty, with this high performance criterion having devolved to an arbitrary targeting of some body weight level with no backstop bottom end. Ask yourself, how many adult males have you actually seen the size of Eliud Kipchoge? None most likely because the number is infinitesimally small. And seven footers? So this would appear to apply to both sexes, as the best adult male and female distance runners are likewise extremely light in body weight. What is perplexing is a coaching mentality that equates body weight far below a person’s physical capability to develop otherwise at the arbitrarily low level set, resulting in what appears to have happened in Mary Cain’s case. Just what is the point of that? In fact, entirely ridiculous and doomed to failure when it becomes obvious very quickly the result is not going to be higher performance, rather injury and just the opposite, lower performance. Right sizing a young athlete in the best sense to suit his or her individual physical characteristics given the athlete’s other impacting characteristics - emotional, psychological, etc. - regardless the sport specialty, is ultimately the only way to proceed, and if the result is that the athlete should best pursue another sport specialty, then good. This also is the responsibility of the coach in guiding the young athlete, eg too tall for gymnastics, why not try track, weightlifting or soccer?

  108. Sports in the US (and competition in general) is a story of excess from the beginning to the end. I was shocked to learn, when my daughter started high school, that any varsity sports involved 2-3 hours daily, sometimes including Saturdays. There was just no lighter option. Many years ago I tore my ACL. While preparing for surgery at the physical therapist, I was horrified to witness that the vast majority of people with ACL or cuff tears preparing for surgery were actually college kids. It is completely absurd.

  109. At what point does being thin outweigh proper nutrition in athletic performance? I get that excess fat+ athletics is not a good mix for most sports. But muscle is a big assist to all sports and gaining muscle in training may add weight to the scale but make you a better athlete, but to gain muscle and allow muscle to recover from training, you need food. Sometimes I think the mindset in coaching is set on struggle, who wants it the most, and a need for pain, and they like to cause pain for women with a lack of food. It's sick, wrong and I hope she recovers and keeps her love for running.

  110. I think I'm ready to give up on the Nike brand; here in Wyoming it is already dismissed because of the Kapernick stain (which I don't buy into). But this account hits a more legitimate nerve, in my opinion.

  111. @At Times Disgusted I have not purchased a Nike product in over 20 years and never will again.

  112. Agree, I stopped purchasing Anything from Nike a long time ago and here is yet another reason why!🇺🇸

  113. Congratulations to Mary Cain for being better than Nike and all its power. Speaking of power, that was one of the most powerful videos I have ever watched, talk about a mature, powerful young lady! You go girl!

  114. You're amazing! Know that I'll be sharing your story with my teenage daughter and her friends, all athletes of one sport or another, so their eyes are wide open to what can happen. Please also know you've earned another huge fan in me, and you didn't even have to lace up first! hope to learn one day that you've found your way back to your passion, running yourself or perhaps coaching. Until then, wishing you the very best of luck!

  115. I’m so moved by this video. It’s so incredibly sad to see how our society continues to pressure young women regarding their bodies. I thought we’d be in a different place by now. I know the emphasis is on the runner needing to be thinner to be faster, but I can’t help thinking it partially stems from the cultural pressure from men to control women’s bodies. You’re a wonderful woman Mary and are uniquely suited to inspire, guide, protect and coach a new generation. Thank you for your strength.

  116. @Linda Mcnamara Well said. I agree that we should, as a society, be better. An obscure example, if I may. I love the TV show MASH. It was quite political and progressive for its time (70's and 80's). Yet, the misogyny in that show is thick enough to cut with a knife. I don't think we have moved very far from that and we have had 40 years to try to be better.

  117. Not all teams operate that way. I’m proud to be team nutritionist for Hoka NJ/NY elite team and we emphasize healthy eating to run faster. The opposite of restricted eating. I emphasize diet quality to perform and recover faster. Overly restrictive eating might work in short-term but ultimately lead to decline in performance and overall health. If an athletes needs to lose weight, it can be done in a healthy way, that isn’t harmful.

  118. That is a powerful and emotional video. I wish Mary the very best in her future endeavors. She is a brave Woman for speaking out and her claims are very similar to what Kara Goucher has stated in the past. Then to see that Salazar dismissed her claims as false is a complete joke. I was in attendance at almost all of Jordan Hasay's early races in cross country and track & field, I have many pictures from those events that I took. Her physical transformation since she joined NOP is startling. She once had a powerful muscular build, even early on in middle school and high school and through out College. Now she has an emaciated look as a result of whatever they are doing at NOP. Let us hope these unethical practices will be banished and that these powerful NIKE run squads will be a thing of the past.

  119. Mary Cain moved to Oregon in October 2014. She moved back to New York in October 2015. I had the impression that she was in Oregon longer. It is an important part of the story that what happened to Cain happened over just one year. That demonstrates how quickly things can go wrong for a high school phenom. Because things happened so quickly, the track world hoped that Cain would recover quickly. She may still recover. But her quick descent highlights how impressionable young athletes are and how traumatic it can be when things go wrong. Young phenoms in the spotlight are just kids after all. It is a coach’s job to coach the person, not just the athlete. Salazar failed miserably.

  120. That was wrenching. Athletics allow humans to push physical boundaries. When an athlete's life is endangered we have pushed too far. I thrill at the athletic abilities of football, basketball and Olympian participants. But I also feel ashamed of myself. I know, and this story confirms, the damage done to these athletes in some instances. Her coach should have been charged with assault or attempted manslaughter.

  121. Mary Cain, having followed your story I am so happy to read that you are getting well and taking care of yourself. Your legacy can be even more impactful by providing young athletes with a healthier role model. Having followed this story and others closely, and been heavily involved in the running community for decades, I will add that these kinds of issues are the norm rather than exception. In distance running and other sports where weight matters (e.g., cycling, triathlon), the internal and external pressures on female AND males athletes to be lighter are enormous and pathological.

  122. Mary Cain, having followed your story I am so happy to read that you are getting well and taking care of yourself. Your legacy can be even more impactful by providing young athletes with a healthier role model. Having followed this story and others closely, and being heavily involved in the running community for decades, I add that these kinds of issues are the norm rather than exception. In distance running and other sports where weight really matters (e.g., cycling, triathlon), the internal and external pressures on female AND males athletes to be lighter are enormous and prone to becoming pathological.

  123. Mary Cain, having followed your story I am so happy to read that you are getting well and taking care of yourself. Your legacy can be even more impactful by providing young athletes with a healthier role model. Having followed this story and others closely, and being heavily involved in the running community for decades, I add that these kinds of issues are the norm rather than exception. In distance running and other sports where weight really matters (e.g., cycling, triathlon), the internal and external pressures on female AND males athletes to be lighter are enormous and prone to becoming pathological.

  124. When is “winning at any cost,” going to stop? We Americans claim to value human life, but our actions suggest otherwise when these scenarios continue to proliferate.

  125. @Sara T Americans have never valued human life, it's just that Evangelical conservatives are REALLY good at making a big fuss and pretending that they do.

  126. If Athletics had tiered levels of competion where athletes could move up or down these women might have not been pushed out of the sport. Unfortunately the entire Track & Field system doesn't have tiered levels for amateurs to move up and earn a living while trying to reach that top tier of Pro or Elite. All of the big professional sports leagues like MLB, NBA, MLS, NFL have farm teams in leagues where athletes are often groomed to move up to the Pro or Elite level or move to a lower tier when not performing. The closest things Athletics has to a tiered system below the Diamond League would be collegiate system (NCAA system in the US) and national programs run by the sports govering body in that country. Atheltes don't see these lower tiers as sustainable and are pushed out of the sport completely. It's not sustainable because an athletes value to sponsors drops significantly from things like: failing to reach podium, beaten by a rival or underdog or bad race. One bad race where an athlete is defeated by their rival can have a large effect on the amount of income from sponsorships, and number of competitive opportunities with largest payouts falls. When an athlete can no longer sustain a career at that level of competition they don't compete at a lower tier but retire. If Athletics could build a tiered system that supported the athlete at multiple levels of performance competition, athletes can be pushed to that lower tier instead of out of competitive sport completely.

  127. @Kevin Smith that is a very interesting point. I think that makes so much sense.

  128. I played rugby in college and recruited an amazing and strong soccer player, who was over looked on the NCAA team for 2 years. Her weight had been an issue (along with her aggression lol). With rugby, she became starting pack player, then captain of the team within a year of joining, and now, ten years later, she is coach of a local NYC club team. Soccer did not respect the innate strength of a woman's body and how it works. Rugby does but then at the top it is probably just distorted views of women's health and needs.

  129. as a swimming coach I always tried to remind myself that a coach cannot make a great athlete however he/she can easily destroy one. Unlocking the door is a coaches most important duty. This is a very sad story. There are endless others.

  130. @j. g. Incredibly insightful statement about make/destroy. I'm glad you commented. Thank you.

  131. Salazar is proof, the best athletes don't necessarily make the best coaches. Since he appears to hold no remorse, he should be banned for life. I would never let my child (male or female) train under him after reading this article. For him to randomly select an ideal body weight for a young woman with no science behind it, should be criminal. I hope he gets sued and taken down.

  132. @Silver Fox - I agree that we should not jump to conclusions based on one side of any story and in the absence of giving him a chance to respond. Too often people rush to judgement and want to be judge, jury and executioner without having all the facts, so I applaud your demand to have a full and detailed accounting before any overzealous response.

  133. @Silver Fox, Galen Rupp and Mo Farah, the silver and gold medalists, respectively, in the 10,000 meters at London in 2016, not to mention Rupp's bronze medal performance in the marathon in 2016, flourished under Salazar's coaching regimen; Salazar's techniques may not be suitable for all athletes, but for some they yield tremendous rewards. Thank you.

  134. @Southern Boy Absolutely he has had success. The issue is obviously there has been no science behind what he has done with his women runners. Why there was no nutritionist is beyond me when most major colleges have one.

  135. As a former female collegiate distance runner myself, your story really resonated with me. My story: I also had amenorrhea (missed period) and the female athlete triad during high school, resulting in a stress fracture during college at a prominent Division I program. Our whole women’s team was also told on multiple occasions that we were too heavy collectively and that’s why our performance was not up to expectations. The coaching staff then instated mandatory body fat analyses before and after each season. We also had no nutritionists on staff, come to think of it. I knew of at least two teammates who were running well and then had performance suffer after being told to lose weight. I saw similar issues with a lot of other collegiate women’s teams when I was going for official athletic visits...disordered eating was rampant on many teams, as evidenced by the girls on one team who hosting me skipping meals so they could “drink later”. The sad thing to me is that I always internalized that I just wasn’t up to par and was exactly one of those “good girls who will go to great lengths to achieve”, and I didn’t even reach the most elite levels of the sport, only walk-on at a Division I program. Like in the #metoo movement, the power differential kept me and many others from speaking out openly. I suggest that every university and organization who has a sports program has a robust reporting and oversight body in place along with certifications on female physiology!

  136. Powerful commentary. I was a cross-country runner at Yale in the 1980s. Anorexia and bulimia were pervasive then. That this obsessive worry about weight continues is mind-numbing. The psychological and physiological costs are devastating. As a researcher now studying muscle development and regeneration, I ask how can you possibly build or maintain muscle mass if you don't eat?

  137. Looking at the title of the article, I was prepared to read about a former athlete casting blame for her disappointments. I was wrong. I am so sorry this is happening to these athletes/humans. People can be cruel and selfish and lose sight of the devastating effects we can have on others. Onward to better things.

  138. If this excessively abusive behavior is occurring in the name of Nike, it’s time to boycott Nike until the practice ends and support for the physical and emotional well being of these abused athletes is bestowed instead.

  139. There are distinct psychological and physiological differences between men and women which would dictate that cross coaching is in itself a bad idea.

  140. Who are these coaches and where did they get their credentials. As a strength and conditioning specialist and sports nutritionist, you don't have athletes lose weight to increase performance. You make them stronger and faster and build them up. Even if the sport is weight focused (like wrestling), there are proper and scientific ways to lose weight. It's a shame that these frauds made it to the top of the Nike training program. I'm not sure who's dumber: Nike for hiring them or the coaches for their non-science based practices.

  141. After hearing this compelling and horrible story, it makes me picture Nike in the form of a big nasty man screaming "Just Do It!" at Ms. Cain. This deserves more action than mere window dressing to cover up what Nike will deem as bad publicity. Nike needs to do some soul searching and decide on a much more healthy path. If not, I hope that Nike will pay a price. Money and power are not everything. Thank you, Mary Cain.

  142. I began running competitively in 1963. I never heard a thing about weight. We (men) were encouraged to work on speed, strength and endurance. I stopped competing in college. I simply wasn't fast enough to compete in D1. but I've followed the sport ever since. Yet this is the first I've heard of a weight obsession. It makes no sense. How in the world does an athlete get stronger while losing weight when after a certain point the only weight to lose comes from muscle. This isn't about winning at any cost though that would be bad enough. It's about the coaches who ran her program not knowing what they're doing.

  143. @DavidWiles In the 80s my D1 coach was obsessed with weight/ % body fat often calling out 6 foot 145 pound men as looking chubby in front the whole team

  144. @Rob It's certainly possible then that coaching theories have changed. The best middle distance runner on my late 60's D1 team would come into outdoor practice 15 pounds heavier than he was at the end of the indoor season, run it off and move on. Fifty years later he still holds some school records. Meanwhile, over the last fifty years, American distance runners on the whole have gone from world beaters to people who struggle to break their own national records while being lionized on the rare occasions they medal in an international competition. Poor training methods anyone?

  145. As a personal trainer for 25 years I find this story to be disgusting. There is a perfect strength to weight ratio for every athlete depending on their sport and a good coach should be monitoring and constantly adjusting workout loads and diet based on how the athlete is feeling and performing. Sleep, recuperation, stress, volume, intensity, a positive psychological state and keeping muscle catabolism to a minimum is and should be the goal of every coach. It’s a constant exercise in observation and intuition and it’s not an exact science but to have an athlete lose weight at the expense of performance and muscle loss is the antithesis of what the goal is. I constantly ask my athletes and clients how they feel day to day. It’s a collaboration. Get it together Nike.

  146. Bravo Mary, for sharing your experience and speaking out! I urge you to stay in the sport, as a coach, advocate, nutritionist or whatever you choose to do with your talent. You mention we need female leaders in running, and YOU are who we need. You have the power to continue to make things better for girl athletes.

  147. It’s so incredibly brave for her to speak out. More of us need to speak up because this isn’t just an issue in the running world. Bro code runs the show in many companies and governments around the world instead of science, statistics, and reason. Time is up, my dudes.

  148. The whole culture of “body shaming” abuse that is slowly becoming unmasked by these personal stories continues to take untold numbers of lives, create lifelong psychological damage, difficult if not impossible to undo. Even if people survive, they have residual damage that often cannot be reversed, not to mention having to reinvent their lives. Corporate campaigns that drive this are sheer marketing. These are not caring people. The coaches are often incentivized to drive the results out of these athletes. The athletes are exploited. The coaching doesn’t always use safe scientific methods and as with this situation, some standards are applied wrongly. I used to argue this with a person who insisted that there was no difference between males and females in how bodies built muscle and eliminated fat for the purposes of competing in various sports. He sought coaching and it reinforced his zeal. His nutrition suffered due to the bizarre diet he took on. He began to use steroids and thought that was okay until his liver and lipid tests came back indicating damage. He dropped the steroids but after effects remained. He ultimately destroyed one hip, due to over-training, ultimately requiring a replacement and at a young age he effectively has bodily damage that cannot be undone. I continuously asked what the point was. He wasn’t a professional athlete. The reveal was his weight problem as a child and constantly being shamed by his parents. This was the driver of his zeal.

  149. I feel for Mary and I am sorry she and other athletes are subject to unhealthy and abusive training. However, I do not see how this about gender. The problem of obsessive and unsustainable training applies to boys and female coaches too.

  150. @Landon from the article: "A big part of this problem is that women and girls are being forced to meet athletic standards that are based on how men and boys develop. If you try to make a girl fit a boy’s development timeline, her body is at risk of breaking down. That is what happened to Cain."

  151. @Landon Obviously there can be issues with men too. But men and women have different bodies. Do men risk infertility and bone issues in the way women do?

  152. Where's the science? I don't think this is the only sport/athletic activity where I have read stories of teens/young women athletes who have reported not having periods for years. I think Mary Cain's comment about breaking bones due to insufficient estrogen says what the problem is. Female bodies, in order to function, need adequate nutrition ... just like men's bodies. When a normal function doesn't happen, it sounds like a problem. I don't know about the relationship between testosterone and bone health, but I suspect it's the same ... the need for adequate nutrition, not supplements.

  153. Perhaps a silver lining is illegal drugs are not front and center in Mary Cain’s story. i recently read a book called Running to the Edge, by a New York Times sports editor, about efforts and strategies to improve US standing in middle-distance distance running. The book talks about the search for the best coaching techniques for middle distance. Training harder at longer distances was held out as a good training approach (eg, emphasis on 20x400’ interval workout led to sub-optimal results). Alberto Salazar’s own running record, the book said, was misunderstood and was too often held up to illustrate the danger of excessive “running to the edge” training. Nike and Salazar, it seemed to me, were trying to break through the record of mediocre middle distance for the US. The idea of recruiting a bright young running prodigy and using the “best” new thinking does not sound terrible. Were mistakes made? Certainly, and based on Salazar’s suspension, “mistakes” is a generous characterization. Another silver lining, the US women seem to be edging closer to the world’s best though they still have a bit to go. It appears to me that the increased success of US female middle runners coincides with the women are able to dedicate themselves to middle-distance running into their late 20s, gaining power and savvy to go with speed. i suspect there are economic incentives to keep at it for these athletes, maybe from Nike and the like. We need to learn as we go along.

  154. Power requires muscle supported by strong bones. Savvy requires focus. Both require evidence-based nutrition and psychological support. I find your concerns about middle distance runners, in response to this story, odd. Cult-like, even.

  155. Sports organizations need more monitoring, and that can include high-school sports, all the way down to very young youth sports. Ambitions of a coach can contribute toward over-use of a player, along with devastating injuries at a young age. Abuse and sexual abuse are rampant and need more monitoring.

  156. It's seems obvious that starving someone will not make them perform better as an athlete. Perhaps the coaches and handlers were confusing female athletes with female super models. I suppose if their real aim was obtaining lucrative contracts with corporate sponsors there is some logic to that thinking. But it is also a case of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. In any event, I am increasingly shocked by the callousness that exists across the various sectors of American sports, arts, commerce, and government. This is a country that seriously needs to readjust our priorities, and to reinstate reasonable checks on power.

  157. This makes me so angry for Mary. Everyone around her failed her. I have a little girl who shows an amazing amount of athleticism for her age. This is a reminder for me as a parent, whether my kid goes into sports or academics (or both) I will always need to keep my eyes and ears open, educate us as a family on best practices, and teach my kid to know that she is the one that know her body and her needs best, regardless of what anyone else says. Becuase even "experts" get it wrong.

  158. I was a serious athlete in my late teens. I was rail-thin, immensely fit, and blessedly allowed to eat a large (though controlled) number of calories. I also lost my period for years. I was told - and I believed - that this was normal. In fact, I still think that it's normal: every serious female athlete in my sport didn't get a period. But I now think: that was the *height* of my fertility, in terms of my age. Periods, and even some fat, are a sign of *health* in a woman. Are we truly at peak physical fitness, as women, if our bodies have stopped working in normal, healthy ways? I'm not sure what the solution is. My trainers, coaches, and nutritionists were wonderful, and I was not starved or insulted or abused in any way. But I do think our (and their) vision of a great athlete is - well - a man. A woman whose body is behaving "mannishly" is apparently the peak of health and fitness.

  159. This is another story of hearing what someone has to give to get to the top. I watched Mary Cain as a high school runner. I have seen many others like her since that time. She is an incredibly talented human being. And she has nothing, absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. She is now at a crossroads......like many other athletes. Is it time to hang up the pursuit of your athletic dream and move on to the other things in life....career, having a family, and becoming part of a community somewhere and, yes, running local road races for exercise and fun.....OR perhaps Mary Cain should be the mentor and coach to young elite female runners. She could teach women what she knows about running and explain to them what NOT to do. Become the anti-Salazar as it were. Salazar is not the only coach in America who treats women runners the way he did. I have seen similar tactics at high school meets. Mary Cain can and should be the lightning rod for women across America who says 'It doesn't have to be this way'. For at the end of the day, when you can see you are no longer happy doing something, it's time to go in a different direction. I wish Mary Cain only the best.

  160. Dalvin Cook of the Vikings weighs 210 pound on a 5-10 frame, and was clocked at 24 mph. He is not thin.

  161. @H Smith It does not good if you can't sustain that speed for a 10k, 13.1, or 26.2 miles. Long distance running and a sprint on a football field are two different things.

  162. @H Smith The difference between the physiques of sprinters like the NFL's Dalvin Cook and middle-distance runners like Cain is striking, and it makes the comparison you are attempting to make....not possible. The world record holder at the mile, Hicham el Guerrouj, is 5' 9" and weighed 58 kg/128lbs, and in his prime (or even now at age 45, perhaps) he would best Cook in the mile by at least a minute. It's almost like sprinting and middle-distance running are totally different sports although the mechanics are similar.

  163. @H Smith And there are countless other examples. THANK YOU.

  164. WOW. just wow. Mary, what courage and strength you have. Thank you for telling your story, for speaking up for yourself and your peers and generations of women to come.

  165. It boggles the mind that an elite program only needed domineering, bossy men to be considered elite. No science? No certified professionals? Male privilege in a nutshell. Mary Cain, I believe you and I'm so sorry for the years that were taken from you. I found your video piece inspiring and humbling.

  166. So if I have this right, Nike recruits the best athletes in the world and then demeans and destroys them. She wasn't lucky to be chosen by Nike...it was the other way around. As a former competitive marathoner, there are so many people who attempt to control you to make your victories their's. Lets make sure the athletes know that they're the prize and that Nike is a shoe company. Time to sell my stock...

  167. Thanks for sharing this horror story, Mary Cain. Salazar should be permanently banned. Qualified nutritionists and weight experts, who can distinguish body differences in females and males need to be in charge. What good is "winning" if health is ruined?

  168. Mary thank-you so much for sharing and speaking out about your horrific experience at NIKE! WOW! I am so sorry you had to endure that kind of treatment. You are the voice and experience of the change that is needed !

  169. Mary Caine you are so brave and smart to have made this video. You have helped countless young women be healthier athletes and avoid the eating-disordered culture so many competitive athletes are forced into. Way to go, Mary Caine. You have a brilliant future ahead of you.

  170. Our family has followed the Mary Cain saga since our daughter competed against her in HS – even trained outside of school with one of Cain's NYC-based, Salazar-connected coaches. Everyone we knew back then who was watching was concerned by her very public decision to forego college competition – obviously, top programs, including Stanford, recruited her – and to go pro with Salazar. It was apparently not the right decision for her. But to fully understand this "everything collapsed" part of the story, you need to dig into the influence of Dr. Cain, Mary's father, on her HS career and the subsequent decisions. I realize that's not a "gender issue," its about parenting. I know he's a difficult source for a reporter to get – does his silence speaks volumes? Finally, rather than see Mary Cain as a "victim" or a "symbol," maybe she's just a kid who had a fantastic run and didn't make the Olympics? There are many many out there – maybe we should tell them, be happy you were so great, remember the fun, and we hope she can regain your love of running and the sport.

  171. @Ec Hmmm... my first thought was that these are mostly minors. My second thought was that their parents seem to not be involved, or to be on board with the program. Not to diminish the issue if Mr. Salazar’s coaching style and treatment if athletes, but don’t the parents have a role in protecting their children?

  172. @Ec She broke 5 bones after being amenorrheic for 3 years. That's extremely serious, not a "remember the fun" situation.

  173. @Jane Bee Yes injuries are always serious - and occur at every level of every sport - but before Nike Oregon Project, and Alberto, she was a happy glowing kid, not the face of the woman in the video. I saw it up close. She had fun. @ Dan Yes, parents absolutely have a role and Mary’s dad was VERY involved. ...

  174. First, I feel horrible for this girl, I really do. She's been through the ringer and was made to bear a workload I couldn't have imagined at 17, or 27 for that matter. This sounds like a case of too much too soon - a kid who wasn't ready for such a rapid ramp-up. NOP was brutal, single-minded, and unyielding in their pursuit of perfection. If you want to be the best runner on the planet, you better be willing to suffer. You better be willing to sacrifice your body. You better be single-minded and unyielding in your pursuit of perfection. Because somewhere in the mountains of East Africa there are hundreds of more talented, starving athletes who would kill for those resources. Secondly, the suggestion that Salazar and NOP don't know how to coach women, or used development/training modalities that only work for men is ridiculous. Sifan Hassan, Konstanze Klosterhalfen, Shannon Rowbury, Jordan Hasay, etc. are some of the greatest and most accomplished women in the sport. Even Kara Goucher, despite her fallout with Salazar, only ever took home one World Championship medal - and it was while she was under his tutelage. Finally, injury, burnout, and psychological struggles are not unique to female athletes. NOP burned through plenty of men as well - Dathan Ritzenhein and Cam Levins come to mind.

  175. @Ian You make some good points, but you might consider how the fact that you are male might blind you. 17 or not. Woman or male what young person can be ready for professional trainers who want to eat them alive for profit.

  176. @Cindy I would refer to the names I listed in the second paragraph.

  177. The terrible reality is that weight does matter- and so much- in girl's and women's distance running. I was a good distance runner in HS and college- I don't have the raw talent to be top 10 D1 but I ran on a full scholarship in college at D1 level. My sophomore year in HS I had serious intestinal surgery and lost about 20 lbs in a week or two. I was on my back for that time period- eating nothing and recovering. About a month later I was allowed to race again. And my times? After no training and serious surgery? Better. I qualified for states. I weighed about 108- my normal weight at that age was about 130. After that, I starved myself for several years to keep my weight at about 118. I ran awesome. When I could no longer maintain it I went up to 145 for a bit, but finally started eating smart and now maintain a steady and healthy 135- I've been at 135 for over a decade now. I can still win mountain races and endurance races, and feel great. I wish someone long ago had helped me develop a balanced, maintainable diet to keep me at my "race weight" of 118. Talking about weight and diet to female distance runners is critical, and the abuse around weight needs to stop. Thanks, Mary, for sharing your story. It is one shared by many female distance runners.

  178. I truly don’t understand Salazar’s apparent fixation on his runner’s weight. It clearly caused more harm than good in this case ( and probably many others), resulting in _worse_ athletic performance. Isn’t the explicit goal of a coach to bring out the _best_ performance possible in any given athlete?

  179. I have a daughter that was described by one as “uncoachable.” I think a little of that might be a good thing, especially when the coaching takes a toll on one’s body and mind. Questions are not the enemy.

  180. @JSBNoWI That is a good thing, being able to say no, risking being unpopular or not being part of a group. Sports are one thing, but think about the work place that she will be in for maybe 40 years.

  181. My daughter runs track and cross country at a division III school. Her team is in the middle of their conference. A couple weeks ago, she told me that one of the top schools in the conference that she was considering attending and on which she knows some of the athletes has weekly weigh ins for the female XC runners. This is for division III which, while competitive, is hardly elite. The coaches apparently get mad if they gain any weight and have target weights for each of the athletes. I imagine the type of pressure described by Ms. Cain is rife in college athletics.

  182. You go girl! Thanks for speaking your truth. It goes against logic to think there's a "one system fits all" approach. Women and men are different. Younger and older athletes are different, too. Nutrition and human physiology are still in their infancy but at least we all should be as educated as possible. To those young ladies following you and informed with your story, you've done more good than you'll ever know. Anything worthwhile should be able to stand in the light and withstand scrutiny. And I hope that our "win at all costs" culture will mature. Perhaps more women involved at all levels will allow that to happen. So sorry that the Salazar group cared more about themselves than about you. Again, that seems to be a repeated refrain from some "leaders."

  183. Capitalism kills sports. Nike sees these athletes as mascots not people, they don’t really care about the people but they care about their corporate image and loss of stock value. Nike knows it has a ton more athletes at their door that they can freely take advantage of for pennies and sell their sweat shop made goods with. Who stands up for these young people? Who protects them when corporations own our media and Government? When will we wake up and see this idea that profit over people will end us?

  184. While it is sad to learn of the details behind Mary Cain’s time with Nike, there is a reality that cannot be denied - to achieve the highest level in sports requires sacrifices. Those sacrifices may take the form of different things for different athletes. For the athlete with several children, it may mean not seeing them for extended periods of time. For the marathon runner it may mean not sleeping late because she has to do her early morning run. For women predisposed to adding weight, it may mean drastically changing eating habits. The point is that becoming the best in the world - which is what Cain said she wanted to be - doesn’t happen without great sacrifice. There are many runners in the world blessed with unreal talent. But only one will be the best. She is the one willing (and able) to make the sacrifices Mary couldn’t. It’s interesting to note that Cain left Salazar in 2015. In 2016 Sifan Hassan joined Salazar. In 2019 she broke the woman’s world record for the mile and accomplished something no athlete, male or female, had ever done by winning the 1500m and 5000m in the same World Championship. Is Hassan more talented? Does she work harder? Or is she willing to make the sacrifices others won’t? She’s 5’7” and weighs 108 pounds.

  185. @Matt Williams 5'7" and 108lbs is underweight according to the CDC and the best scientific information we have to date. Sacrifice is one thing. Losing your period and messing up your hormones is quite another. She didn't go into detail about the consequences of the syndrome she mentioned, but it is quite dangerous. So, sorry. Your argument does not hold water. For her, what he was asking was clearly NOT safe.

  186. @Matt Williams As Cain acknowledges in the video, weight is a factor, but it's one factor. To solely focus on the scale when her physical and mental health was suffering is the abuse. Moreover, Hassan and Cain are different women, from different countries, with different genetic makeups. To equate their height and weight is flawed. Cain was a prodigy before landing in the Nike system with Salazar and he ruined her early career with this obsession to get lighter and lighter. Not everyone runs best at 110 lbs. Running takes sacrifice, anyone who runs knows this, and Cain likely gave up a lot to get where she was at 16, 17, or 18. I don't think her commitment or dedication is even in question.

  187. @Matt Williams It sounds like Hassan performs her best when very thin, and so becoming and staying thin results in optimal achievement for her. That’s great! .... But with Cain, it seems that there was an inverse relationship between excellent performance and attempts at further weight loss.... Everyone is slightly different and the job of a coach is to recognize how to optimize performance in each individual athlete.

  188. Mary, I want to reach across the digital divide and hug you. Looking forward to see where you go and what you accomplish here out!

  189. Again, here we are with the divisive gender angle. It’s not a bad coach or a bad corporation that hurt this woman, it’s the Patriarchy. But it sounds like this careless corporate coach probably hurt some men too, and there’s probably a lot to be explored about the perverse priorities at Nike and how they harm all athletes, but we won’t explore any of that, because this has to be another story of how Men Hurt Women.

  190. @But why? it can be BOTH an issue of careless corporate coaching AND an issue of powerful men systemically manipulating young women. In this case, as the write-up explains, women are in a physiologically distinct and vulnerable situation. Young men and women distance runners DO develop differently and respond differently, at least in the short term, too puberty.

  191. @But why? I agree, somewhat, but listen. When I hear about men's sports, somehow it's a source of pride how many calories they consume....as if it represents how hard they work. "Hey, that guy eats 27 eggs every day! Look how many calories he burns! He must be such a hard worker!" If male athletes are put on a diet, it's because they need to lose extra pounds, not pounds they need to survive and develop. Whether people like it or not, girls bodies are developing such that they can become mothers. That's what's happening, and if that's 'inconvenient' to the look of a young female athlete, then tough questions need asking. I came away from this article with Nike Hurts Women Athletes, not Men Hurt Women. Don't be so sensitive.

  192. @But why? If men want to hear fewer "Men Hurt Women" stories, men should stop hurting women.

  193. Top women's athletics need age restrictions. Women mature faster and decline earlier in their athletic peak which has opened an avenue across a lot of womens sports for them to be highly competitive on the professional level at very young ages(early teens). Fourteen year old boys, no matter how talented, just aren't able to compete against grown men so are generally spared the fate of sport's prodigies(they basically all burn out and fall short of their "promise") The women's golf tour(LPGA) has it correct with an age requirement of 18 to be a full time member. They saw the writing on the wall as 13 year old were qualifying for the US Open and mid-teens were winning tournaments(and then withering away by age 20)

  194. I remember when Mary chose to go pro with the NOP project. As I recall, she had many options, what with multiple scholarship offers and also the means (father is MD) to go to an Ivy as well (in comparison to other sports, the Ivies are competitive on the D 1 level and many from those ranks have competed in the Olympics). Many in the running world were a little surprised and concerned by her (and her family’s) decision to go pro, especially with the controversial NOP. But in the end she chose that path, she could easily have taken many others, she was by no means an inner city or rural teen with no other way out. It’s a little, well, disingenuous to play victim, really.

  195. @Andrew I think you'll find it true of almost all sporting prodigies - it takes money and ample free time on behalf of parents to get kids into elite sports (equipment, coaches, training, travelling to events etc....) This doesn't mean she wasn't the victim of a man and a system that weren't looking out for her wellbeing. Her and her parents probably made the choice they thought was best for her at the time only to be sorely disappointed

  196. @Andrew Imagine being a high school football player and Bill Belichick calls and says he wants you to join his team. Sure you could go elsewhere, but I am sure Salazar gave a very convincing argument and it was probably very tough to say no. Hind sight is always 20:20. But at the end of the day, an athlete in any sport has to decide if they want to put all their effort into their sport t the expense of other aspects of their lives. Mary Cain did suffer, but she is sharing her story so others may make a more informed choice. Think of all the great athletes who got the call, said yes, blew out their knee and now work a service job somewhere.

  197. @Andrew Many female elite athletes, wanting to attain the ultimate achievements in their sport, travel to the perceived mecca at the time to pursue their dreams. The Karolyi Ranch in gymnastics, the University of North Carolina in soccer, the Mission Viejo Nadadores in swimming have all been places (in the past) where female athletes flocked to receive the best coaching and advice. The Oregon Project is/was no different. Mary Cain IS a victim, just like many of the athletes who sought ultimate fame and glory at the above places but ended up broken or worse. Mary, thank you for your story. Keep running for you.

  198. It's disappointing that the Times in its 2015 magazine piece on Mary Cain did not even hint at the issues that Cain was facing at the Oregon Project. I remember reading that piece when it was published and feeling so inspired by Cain's drive and fascinated by the Nike Oregon Project, which the article represented as an innovative training ground for the world's top runners. Kudos to Cain for speaking out, and I hope the Times and other journalism outlets will further investigate Salazar and Nike so we can learn the full extent of the issues.

  199. It seems pretty clear that the whole “training program” is actually just a stage or runway, if you will, for Nike to show off its wares. They want fashion models to sell product, not athletes. Consumers see extreme thinness as a pinnacle achievement, want to look that way themselves, and are hooked into buying. It’s all just a corporate machine to sell, and the runners in this program are unwitting models for Nike’s unethical practice of using (and abusing) young hopefuls for profit.

  200. I don't think we have the full story here. Ideal racing weight is not an exact science, it's as low as one's body will support without adverse effects and that's a different percentage for everyone. For sure her obsession with eating and weight had its roots in the program, but I have a hard time believing nobody figured out that her optimal weight point was exceeded or tried to get her back on track. There seems to be an element of breaking down under pressure here too, which is part of sports at the highest level. To quote the movie Jerry Maguire: "There's genius everywhere, but until they turn pro, it's like popcorn in the pan. Some pop... some don't."

  201. @Anne It's routine that they don't figure out optimal weight. Routine practice. They really don't figure it out. I'm the mother of a XC athlete and I can tell you it's routine. All those girls out there racing with their bones protruding--really, everyone just goes along. It's much deeper than Nike.

  202. @Anne if you listened to the story, she said there were no certified nutritionists or psychologists on staff - just the coaches who bullied her into losing weight at all costs. So Nike didn't have the appropriate professionals on staff to monitor this. And it didn't sound like it was HER obsession with eating and weight loss, but the coaches.

  203. @Anne a big fwiw here, but -- once i had an anorexic friend (who died of the disease's cardio effects) who was nonetheless an excellent runner even as her health declined. my guess is that there's a psychological commonality to both self-starvation and the compulsion to run 20 miles/day. if we as a society were to disregard the value of human life, we might find that anorexic-level starvation is in fact optimal to distance running performance. (at the age of 40 my friend jumped into her first race ever, recording a 2:50 marathon. me, a 2:30-something hasbeen, i trained with her even as her life ebbed away. the guilt remains; still, above all, she loved to run. i too am that way.)

  204. Thank you, Mary and NYT, for a brave and candid story. Sadly, the sport of running is littered with promising young runners who never go on to the greatness portended in their youth. Female runners in particular struggle as their bodies mature and naturally fill out. Because weight is in fact correlated with success in distance running (and because these girls are often compared with those from other cultures who might be naturally smaller), an overly simplified calculus is often pushed on the athlete: Thinner is better. Always. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that short term gains are often seen. Improvement and success might last for a year or so, before the broken bones and other signs of chronic undernourishment show up. As long as coaches and programs are viewing the athletes as a business, they'll take these short term gains. The fact is that every body is different, and there is an optimal weight at which each woman will perform best, AND that this is naturally more variable for women than for men. Realizing this will require women in leadership in the sport, as well as empowered women and girl athletes who can speak out and advocate for themselves. Which brings us back to Mary, and Kara, and all the women currently seeking to change the game - a deep thank you to all of you.