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
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
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.

100 Replies to “I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike | NYT Opinion”

  1. Yeah well Nike sucks as an organization. Their shoes are made in slave factories and they pay ridiculous amounts to anti american people like Colin Kaepernick. Time to just say NO to NIKE. clearly have no true ethics.

  2. If women can't handle hardcore training then they cry abuse and "muh sexism"

    "An all male nike staff told me to get thinner" – Well this uggo clearly isn't a model so they clearly thought it'd better her performance. Whiney SJW. Why bring up that they were men?

  3. Seems to be a malnourishing issue and a overworking problem. To be a champion you need to optimize health not hyperoptimize a perceived level of weight or statistics. At elite levels you also need elite levels of care, and from what I hear here this was lacking.

  4. Horrible, so glad your telling your story. I was a runner once too, I won't buy Nike ever again…this girl deserved to make it, and instead she was abused.

  5. Well Mary, while they were doing that to you, they were cozying up to slave masters in China. They are very sleazy in a number of ways.

  6. They can't take away that at one time you were the fattest female in America. I think you can be again. You need a differnt environment. You need all those hormones to have your full strenth. Ask any post menopausal women.You are never again as fast or strong when estrogen is lower.Best of luck writing your new chapter.

  7. Nike is a garbage corporation. Imagine even calling yourself a pro and not having a certified nutritionist available.

  8. Me also an athlete in Morocco I training hard everyday to get the best results but unfortunately in my country they don’t care about athletes because we haven’t a good place in the society in other word because we’re poor

  9. She a little sexist but she was traumatised by Nike's corrupt system, I wonder how many other systems like this there are.

  10. this is important. athletes are so overlooked when it comes to health, mostly because everyone assumes they’re healthy because they “work out all the time.” women are important and they’re not the same as men.

  11. This is about two problems, actually: Profit over the value of human life + gender related oppression (men in positions of power expecting women to be beautiful / skinny enough).

  12. To run fast, you need to be strong not thin, people/ trainers are obsessed with having thin track runners without muscle which makes them run slower and it isn’t healthy

  13. So tragic on so many levels. If I recall, many people thought Mary Cain's decision to join NOP and Salazar was a bad move because she was too young. Appears the critics were right.

  14. If you don't control your own life you get no tears here, you want to be a movie star in Hollywood and share your body to get there, no tears here. You alone determine your life.

  15. Made the painful choice to quit the team? How is it painful to leave an abusive system, I have sympathy for what you went through but you need to be strong enough to quit

  16. It was all fine. I was listening and agreeing to what she was saying right up until, We need more women in power. She is clearly delusional.

  17. Track and field could be just as effectively, if not more effectively, coached by an exercise physiologist than a plain ol' coach that simply has experience in the sport. Plus, if it's coached by a physiologist, IMO, there's less likely a chance for this emotional abuse.

  18. Sign with ASICS it may not look as cool as Nike but it has the best quality ever! Lots of Olympic runners use these shoes and I know that you should too! I have so much respect for you. I run cross country and track and I know how difficult running is. But on top of that the fact that you had to go through that I am so sorry.

  19. I won't ever buy anything Nike, ever again, bought a pair of NIKE shoes and the thread came out bye day 3 and sent them back through the mail just to have those pair of NIKE Air Max threw away, didn't even reimburse me, over $120 pair of shoes to be toss in the trash, shame

  20. He should have kept her at a better weight because you still need muscle to run to more explosive with that fast twitch.

  21. Yes

    Lose weight instead of working out and getting your legs more muscular, weight definitely helps

  22. Yeah that sucks but wtf why put girls in positions that they can't be helpful in, what happened to her is awful. But do not put any unqualified people into positions where they don't know what they are doing. As long as people aren't being abused like she was it doesn't matter if it's a female or male, just be qualified

  23. Power to weight isnt just a female thing. Coaches aren't babysitters for teenagers, if there is no psych member of the team you need to go to a professional. The coach should ha e said, "Go to a shrink", but you might have blamed him for being a pig if he said that? Elite groups push harder than the rest, that's what makes their members the best. Not everyone gets the benifit of a nutritionist, shrink, massage therapist, prestine training grounds and equipment. Not every elite sports star gets payed big money, especially track & field athletes. It's not a movie, it's real life. They probably should only take on adults in that group because they obviously dont take care of whiney kids.

  24. I'm confused and skeptical about the heavy push for the angle here to be so focused on gender, if the coaches valued the loss of weight to that extent then why is the focus on how it affects the female athletes? Did the program not train men? The video description even talks about the fetishising of the story of young athletes particularly girls because it sells better, but isn't this video doing exactly that by trying to push the sexism angle that hard?

    Final questions: Why is this system only bad for young girls? Are they affected disproportionately more, or are more deserving of protection than their male colleagues? Why is this angle on this piece about the protection of young girls in sports rather than the condoning the system she's exposing and all its victims?

  25. Lmao what a surprise that it's coming from one of the very same companies that share the very same political ideologies that are being spread by this news channel. I wonder how long it's going to take for people to realize how shallow and manipulative these jerks are. They're too stupid to even realize that they actively promote these types of issues

  26. Wow this is beyond tragic, I haven't even gotten through half and I had to stop watching. Ive never understood why people think you need to lose weight to do good, by performing you will get to your ideal weight for your performance, you never diet that unless your fat or obese, and even then you would still run because that's more important then dieting, but she was already pretty thin, soo many wrong things here, if anyone gaining just a bit of muscle could've made her faster.

  27. she never taste how becoming runner athlete in Africa. she need experience there so she will stop complaining then.
    typical westerns work 10% and spend 90% of their time for blaming nonsense.

  28. Women's bodies are not the same as Male bodies. We need to UNDERSTAND that women need more body fat in comparison to males to function optimally.

  29. Muscle has weight, you cannot be a thin person and try to simultaneously get thinner and gain muscle mass at the same time, thats not how it works.

  30. I was curious what happened to Mary. She was so very good. Olympic medal potential.

    Then, she was gone. No mention of her at big races. I did not hear about any career ending injury. Was she burned out? Did she run too hard, too often, too young? Where was she at the big races? Shouldn’t she have been at the World Championships?

    Now we know. She did not thrive in the Salazar system. It was all wrong for her. He has had great success with other world class women runners, so. his system does work.

    It just is not for everyone. It should not have taken so long to figure out that his methods were not right for Mary. Someone on his staff should be qualified to identify the psychological affects on the athletes that train in his camp.

    Mary must have felt that since Salazar was so successful that he had to be right. But, men like him become dangerous. They are so self absorbed in their greatness that they fail to identify those times when they are being despotic. They develop an atmosphere that becomes cultish.

    Alberto Salazar is finished. He will never coach world class athletes again. Let us hope that Mary Cain will find her legs. She is a real talent.

  31. Thank God you didn't get pregnant. They don't look too kindly upon women that decide to have children, and create a culture that penalizes you for it.

  32. I don’t get how it has anything to do with gender what happend is that you got pushed by a coach to your limits and made to use pills the thing is it’s not just you their are 1,000 of other male and female and (other gender) that go throw this and Nike was just funding them to be the best team it was the COACH that pushed you not the Nike brand and am not sure about it or if I got something wrong?

  33. I am so sorry to hear this awful story. I am only a (very!!) novice runner but I've seen 'big names' like Alberto damage talent in another area of my life. I am glad you broke free.

  34. I remember watching a video of her a Jordan doing a workout together with Alberto and thinking gosh they look miserable and malnourished. I'm glad she found the strength to stand up for herself and share her story and I hope she and the sport get what is deserved.

  35. The swoosh is the footprint of the common american sheep. Knight (and his ilk) are predatory capitalists, they give regulated capitalism a bad name.

  36. sounds like salazar wanted an athlete who could be the best and it’s simple, she biologically failed to meet it. but, the lack of respect that salazar showed is very scary.

  37. I remember the outcry when it was discovered that the USSR female gymnastics teams were given some drug/hormone to stop them going into puberty. This is the same thing. Never buy ™Nike.

  38. “All male staff”, as if that’s bad. Yet we celebrate an “all female space walk”.

    Why is the one bad but the other good? Geeze we live in a sexist society.

    You’re training in the top program in the world. NFL players have to eat healthy and get yelled at by their coaches in front of other players all the time. Don’t say you want equality but then when you get treated equally you can’t handle it.

  39. Unfortunately women's sports are being destroyed by the Trans Mafia and their Communist enablers in the media, the U.N. and Democrat Party. All female athletes should be protesting biological males, posing as females, from participating against them.

  40. The amount of comments that go on random transphobic rants is concerning, it's like they see the title and go "OH FEMALE ATHLETES THAT MEANS TRANSWOMEN! 1!1!1! GRRR LISTEN TO MY OPINIONS!!" without watching the video… And the amount of people who watch the video and only have comments about her appearance is also concerning… Like, watch the video. There's no mention of trans athletes anywhere (not that your transphobic opinion is justified even if it did mention them) and who cares about how she looks?? Do you guys watch on mute to pleasure yourself? are you trying to date her? Why does it matter so much that everything else just slips away over your heads

  41. A company that uses slave labor to construct shoes also treats its employees poorly. It's corporate culture. Just stop buying.

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