By: Freelance Writer Lexi Lay
For the vast majority of athletes, the experience of playing a sport can bring thrill, camaraderie, determination, jubilance, and opportunities. The unspoken dangers and realities that sports brings are typically swept under the rug and not brought to one’s attention. Yet, all that changed when national phenom and track superstar, Mary Cain, spoke out against the abuse she endured while training under Nike’s Oregon Project. Nike Oregon Project was a professional track club that endorsed and trained several track phenoms under head coach Alberto Salazar. Cain’s allegations sheds light on her experiences that aren’t just limited to professional athletes, but to all athletes at every level of competitive sports.
Prior to joining the club, Mary Cain was a track powerhouse , winning accolades of state and national medals, setting records, and gaining world-wide recognition; In 2014, Cain became a junior world champion in the 3000m-signaling to that she had Olympic level running potential at such a tender age of her life. With that, Cain forgoed her eligibility for NCAA DI Track & Field and went straight to the big leagues of running by signing with the Nike Track Club. Except, her time at the club was overshadowed by hell-like experiences such as extreme dietary restrictions fixated on her “running weight”, insults sparring from her “trusted”coaches when failing to weight standards, and pressure to uphold “elite” performance. These issues, specifically her coach coercing her into an eating disorder, contributed to Cain deteriorating health issues; five broken bones, loss of menstrual cycle for three years, high risk for infertility and osteoporosis, and eventually became suicidal. Sadly when Cain spoke to her coaches about her experiences, they abused her emotionally by laughing at her, ignoring her, and often scolding her and as a result, Cain’s pain was silenced.
Despite Cain’s bravery when she spoke out against the abuse, her experiences sound all too familiar in all aspects of sports, especially in high school sports. Many high school athletes feel compelled to lose weight as they misconceive that less weight accumulates to a better performance. To this point, Cain’s weight ordeal highlights the ongoing issue in competitive sports whereby many people believe that if an individual loses weight (s)he will less body fat which in turn will result in faster times. On the contrary, the misconception people fail to compute muscle mass into the calculation of faster times. In essence, body fat and muscle mass must both be calculated. Moreover, often times many high school athletes who dream of playing on a Division I college team feel pressured by their parents and coaches to do whatever to make all ends meet without forethought of their wellbeing. Subsequently, the pressure felt by the kids causes them to lose the joy of the game and rob them of their happiness.
The familiarity of Cain’s experiences in competitive sports is another example of the need for awareness, training, and abuse prevention. A critical step in when vetting coaches to quickly identify certain red flags such as verbal insults, fixating on ideal weight, and tearing down self-esteem. If you encounter abuse by coach, it is imperative that you report it to an administrator and your parent(s). All in all high school sports needs to balance on healthy lifestyle and rigorous training.