Mary Cain, who was the 2014 World Junior Champion in the 3000-meter event, struggled to perform since 2015 because she said she was physically and mentally destroyed at the hands of Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar.
On Thursday, in a New York Times video, Caine said, “I joined Nike because I wanted to be the best female athlete ever. Instead, I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike.”
The 23-year-old she was told to lose weight and become “thinner, and thinner, and thinner” in order to get much better. She was even told to take birth control pills and water pills (diuretics).
In March 2015, The New York Times magazine reported that Salazar was treating Cain carefully. He was aiming to avoid women issues such as the “female athlete triad,” aka RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in sport) Syndrome, which the result of insufficient caloric intake and excessive energy expenditure, leading to a weaker bone structure.
Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Andrea Spiker from the University of Wisconsin said, “Not eating appropriately for the amount of energy an athlete expends is really the root of this syndrome.”
Cain recalled she missed her periods for three years and had five broken bones, which took a toll on her physical and mental health. She said she had suicidal thoughts and started cutting herself, and even reported it to Salazar, who then yelled her in from of other athletes and officials. Later, her parents brought her back home.
She said, “I wasn’t even trying to make the Olympics anymore. I was just trying to survive.”
She started hiding the depths of her problems. In 2018, Cain told Runner’s World that she does not regret her career choices. She talked about creating back up to run in the outdoor season.
Former Nike long-distance runner Shalane Flanagan reached out to Cain on Twitter about her problems.
Flanagan wrote, “I had no idea it was this bad. I’m so sorry @runmarycain that I never reached out to you when I saw you struggling. I made excuses to myself as to why I should mind my own business. We let you down. I will never turn my head again.”
Responding to Flanagan, Caine wrote, “Thank you @ShalaneFlanagan – I can’t express how much this meant to me. It was scary to feel so forgotten by a community I devoted my life to. But together we can change things. As athletes, it’s easy to hand our agency to others, but new coaches can change the system.”
Cain is now keen on changing the system. She said, “Young girls’ bodies are being ruined by an emotionally and physically abusive system,” giving a road map for reform. “Part of the reason I’m doing this now is I want to end this chapter, and I want to start a new one,” added Cain.