While Nike loudly proclaims an emphasis on growing its women’s business, yet another story has surfaced that’s at odds with the company’s stated goal. Former running star Mary Cain today (November 7, 2019) revealed she suffered abuse throughout the period she was a member of Nike’s now dismantled Oregon Project, a club formerly run by coach Alberto Salazar.
A high-school, middle-distance running star, Cain was recruited as a high school senior to run professionally with the Oregon Project under Salazar’s direction at Nike’s headquarters. She attended University of Portland and made her pro debut in January 2014.
In a visual accompanying a NY Times profile, Cain stated, “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.”
Cain said Alberto was constantly harping on her to lose weight and wanted to give her birth control pills and diuretics to aid her efforts. During her time with the program, Cain explained she grew so thin she missed three periods which led to five broken bones. Her sense of isolation combined with flagging health led to episodes of cutting and suicidal thoughts.
Cain left the program in October 2016 and returned to New York where where she enrolled in business classes at Fordham University.
While Cain’s complaints were related to her weight, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on September 30th announced Salazar was banned from coaching the sport for four years for three doping code violations. Not long after, Nike announced it was shutting down the team.
Providing thoughts on what needs to change, Cain said Nike needs to do more than just end the program and fire a single coach because the issues are systemic. She added, “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.”
After a three-year break from the sport of running, Cain in May 2019 entered the New York Road Runners’ Japan Four Mile in Manhattan and finished in first place.
In an email exchange with the NY Times, Salazar pushed back on many of Cain’s claims, and said he had supported her health during the time he coached her.
Check out Cain’s full statement below.