How Nike ruined Mary Cain’s running career

A little over a week ago, on Nov. 7, The New York Times published an opinion video of professional American distance runner, Mary Cain, titled “I was the fastest girl in America, until I joined Nike.”

Cain, once the 2014 World Junior Champion in the 3000 meter event, started her downfall as a runner when she joined Nike’s Oregon Project; where she was abused both emotionally and physically by the coaches in the program, predominantly head coach Alberto Salazar. 

Before joining the program her freshman year of college, at age 16, Cain was the fastest girl in America. She set many national records and she was a straight A student. 

She was undoubtedly on track to set even more records in college, but everything took a wrong turn after she started training full time with Salazar and his team at Nike’s world headquarters in Portland, Oregon.

In the video, Cain described the experience as a “dream come true,” but that dream soon turned into a nightmare.

“I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike,” Cain reported to the New York Times.

There were many problems with Nike’s Oregon Project that Cain exposed in the video.

First of all, the program did not have certified sport psychologists or nutritionists.

Secondly, and most importantly, the all-male Nike staff was convinced in order to become faster, runners had to be thinner and lighter. So, that is what Cain had to do to be the best.

She had to become thinner.

She had to become 114 pounds, to be exact.

To make sure this happened, Salazar publically weighed Cain in front of her teammates and shamed her if she didn’t make weight.

He even publicly shamed her at a collegiate track meet in front of everyone after she had lost a race, claiming she must have gained five pounds before the race started. 

For Cain, it got to the point where she had already lost the race before even starting it.

“I was on the starting line and I lost the race before I started because in my head all I was thinking about was not the time I was trying to hit, but the number on the scale I saw earlier that day,” she stated in the video.

Cain was scared; she was thousands of miles from her home and she felt trapped and alone.

The immense physical and emotional abuse led to Cain breaking five bones and becoming suicidal to the point where she started cutting herself.

When she told her coaches about the cutting, they didn’t care.

For Cain, this was the last straw. Her parents bought her the next plane ride home and she quit the team.

Cain’s story emphasizes the many problems within women’s sports. 

Women in athletics are being destroyed both mentally and physically by ideologies created by men and for men. In the video, the solution Cain suggests is to empower women. 

It’s all too common to see men as coaches; but who knows the female mind better than a female herself?

Female athletes need to take a stand and take charge of their own careers. 

Stop letting a flawed system control how you view yourself as an athlete and as a women. Take care of your body, but more importantly take care of your mind. Don’t let unreasonable solutions, like becoming thinner to become faster overtake your mind. But more importantly, don’t let how you compete as an athlete define you as an individual.