I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike | NYT Opinion

I was the fastest
girl in America. “Mary Cain!” “There are women here almost
twice her age” “being left in her wake.“ I set many national records. And I was a straight-A student. “C’mon, Mary Cain!” When I was 16, I got a call from
Alberto Salazar at Nike. He was the world’s most famous
track coach and he told me I was the most talented
athlete he’d ever seen. During my freshman year in college,
I moved out to train with him and his team full time at Nike world headquarters. It was a team of the fastest
athletes in the world. And it was a dream come true. 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. This is what happened to me. When I first arrived, an all-male Nike staff became convinced that in order for me to get better, I had to become thinner,
and thinner, and thinner. This Nike team was the
top running program in the country. And yet we had no certified
sports psychologist. There was no certified
nutritionist. It was really just
a bunch of people who were Alberto’s friends. So when I went to
anybody for help, they would always just
tell me the same thing. And that was to listen to Alberto. Alberto was constantly trying
to get me to lose weight. He created an arbitrary
number of 114 pounds, and he would usually weigh
me in front of my teammates and publicly shame me if
I wasn’t hitting weight. He wanted to give me
birth control pills and diuretics to lose weight— the latter of which isn’t
allowed in track and field. I ran terrible
during this time. It reached a point where
I was on the starting line and I’d lost the race before
I started, because in my head all I was thinking of was not
the time I was trying to hit but the number on the scale
I saw earlier that day. It would be naïve to not
acknowledge the fact that weight is
important in sports. Like boxers need to maintain
a certain weight, or you know everybody always
ends up citing the math about how
the thinner you are, the faster you’re going
to run because you have to carry less weight. But here’s a biology lesson
I learned the hard way. When young women are forced to
push themselves beyond what they’re capable at
their given age, they’re at risk for developing RED–S. Suddenly, you realize you’ve
lost your period for a couple months. And then a couple months
becomes a couple years. And in my case, it
was a total of three. And if you’re not
getting your period, you’re not going
to be able to have the necessary
levels of estrogen to maintain strong
bone health. And in my case, I broke
five different bones. The New York Times
Magazine published a story about how Alberto was
training me and nurturing my talent. We weren’t doing any of that. I felt so scared. I felt so alone. And I felt so
trapped. And I started to have suicidal thoughts. I started to cut myself. Some people saw
me cutting myself and … sorry. Nobody really did
anything or said anything. So in 2015, I ran this race, and I didn’t run super well. And afterwards, there
was a thunderstorm going on. Half the
track was under one tent. Alberto yelled at
me in front of everybody else at the meet,
and he told me that I’d clearly gained five
pounds before the race. It was also that night that I told
Alberto and our sports psych that I was cutting myself. And they pretty much told me
they just wanted to go to bed. And I think for me, that was
my kick in the head where I was like, “This
system is sick.” I think even for my parents
in certain ways, once I finally
vocalized to them, I mean, they were horrified. They bought me the first
plane ride home. And they were like,
”Get on that flight. Get the hell out of there.” I wasn’t even trying to
make the Olympics anymore. I was just trying to survive. So I made the painful choice and I quit the team. “After a multiyear investigation, the U.S. anti-doping
agency has banned Alberto Salazar from the
sport for four years.” “Nike will shut down
the Oregon project.” “Nike C.E.O. Mark
Parker stepping down from the company
in January of 2020.” Those reforms are
mostly a direct result of the doping scandal. They’re not
acknowledging the fact that there is a systemic
crisis in women’s sports and at Nike, in which
young girls’ bodies are being ruined by an emotionally
and physically abusive system. That’s what needs to change,
and here’s how we can do it. First, Nike needs to
change. In track and field, Nike is all powerful. They control the top
coaches, athletes, races, even the governing body. You can’t just fire a coach
and eliminate a program and pretend the
problem is solved. My worry is that
Nike is merely going to rebrand
the old program and put Alberto’s old
assistant coaches in charge. Secondly, we need
more women in power. Part of me wonders
if I had worked with more female psychologists,
nutritionists and even coaches where I’d be today. I got caught in a system
designed by and for men, which destroys the
bodies of young girls. Rather than force young
girls to fend for themselves, we have to protect them. I genuinely do have
hope for the sport. And I plan to be running
for many years to come. And so part of the
reason I’m doing this now is I want to end this chapter and I want to start a new one.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. WoW!!!! What an IMPORTANT and eloquent VIDEO!! Big thumbs up for you! Big thumbs down for that whole SICK system! Wow, jut wow!

  2. Yes women need to be protected in all fields.Women are fighting a patriotic system where things still need to be put in place so women can thrive.

  3. Very proud of you. Congratulations on becoming stronger! The past is in the past. You are wonderful and your future is glorious:)

  4. She missed her period for 3 YEARS and still kept running that’s crazy like if I miss my period for 3 days I get worried 😧 like what the heck

  5. I gave this a thumbs up for her sharing, not for her getting in a bad spot.
    I want to give it a thumbs down for the bad spot she got in.

  6. Hey guys while we can all agree that Alberto is a horrible man, don't let anyone take your rage and focus it on ALL men. That's exactly what news channels like NYT does with stories like this. They'll get you riled up about one person and then focus you on an entire group of people that just happen to have a similar trait or gender. Just keep that in mind.

  7. I really applaud and look up to her for speaking out about this! It takes so much strength to overcome what she was put through but also expose this publicly (especially on a company as big as Nike).

  8. IDK I would like to hear both sides for sure. Coaches are known to push the athletes always, but people are becoming more sensitive and PC so I don't want to jump to any conclusions .

  9. As a male blighted by muscle dysmorphia, sometimes called "bigorexia" or "reverse anorexia", an obsession with making one's body more massive or more muscular, thus often combining a doubly difficult quest to become both larger and yet leaner, I understand that many male athletes, too, have sustained such pressures and adversities as have the women covered in this New York Times report. Individuals experiencing muscle dysmorphia, in fact, have generally been males, often athletes or, as in my case as an adolescent and young adult, aspiring athletes.

    And in some sports, like cycling, males have been likewise—as the Times here tells us about Mary Cain and Gracie Gold—"caught in a system where she was compelled to become thinner and thinner". (See, e.g., Global Cycling Network, "Cycling's body weight obsession", 2 Dec 2018, https://youtu.be/7_2bybJWQFg .) Yet males, atop drawing virtually no support, also draw the stigma that their plight is feminine. Only in 2013, after some 30 years of hearing of females' weight woes from journalists and clinicians, and from female family and friends—who all ignored or even belittled my own weight woes—did I discover, but by mere chance, that muscle dysmorphia exists.

    Although the disorder has been listed in American psychiatry's diagnostic manual, the DSM, since 1994, I have never encountered a clinician, whether psychological or psychiatric, out of the several that I've seen since 2013, who even knew what the disorder is. Literally, despite all of them instantly knowing what anorexia nervosa is, I've had to explain to each of them, supposedly there to help me, what muscle dysmorphia is. To simplify my own task, then, I wrote the lead of the Wikipedia article "Muscle dysmorphia". And here I am, another five years onward, where the world's most esteemed newspaper is still fostering the stereotype that, in effect, weight pressures are a uniquely female plight.

  10. Very understandable….you cannot run if you cannot stay off the toilet, not much you can do about that!


  11. “Rather than forcing young girls to fend for themselves, we have to protect them”, doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for girl-power. Women can do anything a man can do. Women must be protected. Which is it?

  12. I’ve boycotted Nike some time ago when they started being political and supporting anti-American themes. This is just the icing on the cake. I had no idea.

  13. The two of the best runners we have in Peru just joined this program a couple of months ago. I'm scared for them now. I will give them the link to this video, I hope they'll see that.

  14. Nike really doesn't have a lot of money to spare on things like this. I mean, think about how many thousands of children they would have to lay off for one week of nutrition for this athlete. I think Colin Kaepernick should have stepped in and helped out. I mean, he is all about the justice, not the money. Right?

  15. So her parents were??? Too many get caught in the pomp and circumstance, I would have NEVER let her go by herself, no matter how great the opportunity, high school to pros sounds great for other sports, but more track athletes need that college transition

  16. It's all about the money. Just look at the working conditions if the people that make their shoes and other products in China. They get paid $1.00 an hour.

  17. I’m not hating but wheres the proof? All we say were birth control pills. Wouldn’t she show other stuff? This could be wishful thinking since I hope this is false for the girl and Nike

  18. Terrible, if there’s anything good to come from this young woman’s experience it’s that a light was shone on the ignorance of women’s needs and the systemic abuse of female athletes. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to a corporation like Nike, your message will not be silenced.

  19. It's actually kind of surprising to me that there weren't female coaches around. Is this commonplace in high level track at the college and olympic level?

  20. You, just hate men. Men treat men the same way! You were not the best! I went to the same thing! And I lost 40 pounds and got faster!.

  21. Wow ! What!! I’m in shock I never knew about it that’s disgusting because they have money they think they can do everything:/

  22. What did she told about that big magazine article about the program?? Nothing was true!? So 1. Salazar & co lied the whole time? 2. There was no insight from outside: no sports authorities, prob not Nike, and certainly not any knowleable journalist… A sheer sect behavior.

  23. U cant win if u aren't thin. Look at the Africans, they are literally skin on skeleton. Is winning healthy? Is being the most extreme athlete healthy? That's not the point. Winning is about doing everything more than the competition for an edge. If you aren't willing to push your body to the edge, then you need to talk to David Goggins. Man UP!

  24. Body breaking down? U mean like every extreme endurance athlete? It comes with the territory.

    Breaking down? Have you heard about David Goggins. That man's body broke down and he kept going and still is. Man UP!

  25. Liberal men destroy woman. Nothing new here. And I don't say that to minimize what she went through. I'm glad that long ago, I chose to not buy Nike products.

  26. my question would be why did she let herself not have her period for 3 years and not get any second opinion outside of Alberto's staff?

  27. Blame, Blame, Blame… I'm a victim…
    Okay. You're free now. Train and run on to victory…
    …unless you're ACTUALLY just looking for a payoff from Nike…

  28. Wow, I’m not buying Jordan’s anymore. This is disappointing if Nike allows things like this to happen. Shame on them.

  29. Don't get me wrong, I think the coach was a dickhead and it was unacceptable. But why can she only have women psychologists and coaches? How about just non-dickhead psychologists and coaches. I mean, if they're women by coincidence then its fine but why just COMPLETELY rule out men?

  30. It is a shame that it takes something like this to bring abuse in sports to the forefront. I glad Mary discovered this and "saved herself. Wellness and sports need to work hand in hand but somehow big money always distorts the truth. Every athlete male and female should see this and understand how it can be avoided. Good luck in your next chapter Mary!!

  31. Meh. In a society where trans people, with significantly higher levels of testosterone than women, can compete in women's sports events, I don't think this makes much of a difference. It isn't like she would've been the fastest woman in America; that title will eventually be held by a man who identifies as a woman.

Related Post