While Mary Cain is far from your average young female runner, the lessons she has learned the past few years about her health needs should resonate at any level across the United States.
Cain made national headlines this week when she helped produce a tell-all video for the New York Times, accusing defamed coach Alberto Salazar and the Nike/Oregon Project (now closed) of a variety of abuses.
While it was important to hear and see that Salazar deserved a four-year suspension from coaching and the Oregon Project was justifiably halted, perhaps the bigger piece of news on a grassroots level was Cain’s list of statements about the special requirements of women runners in her age demographic.
Namely, that an overemphasis on weight loss – supposedly the end-all for faster times – can lead to myriad physical and mental issues.
Cain, a world-class runner at an early age, set all kinds of national records while she was still in high school.
But she wasn’t satisfied. She wanted to be the best. Ever. So she headed west to join Salazar’s controversial program.
Cain disclosed that Salazar constantly demanded she lose weight, even suggesting the use of diuretics and birth control pills.
At one point, Cain claims Salazar made her stand on a weight scale in front of her teammates – the implication being that a five-pound gain should be cause for shame.
To summarize: Cain’s times began to suffer. Things got so bad, she actually began entertaining thoughts of suicide.
The constant, drastic weight loss caused her to lose her period for three years. As a result, she suffered five broken bones.
Cain contends a lot of this could have been avoided if the Nike Project had a sports psychologist, a nutritionist or even a female or two on Salazar’s coaching staff.
No doubt both male and female coaches right here in Bucks County are aware of the delicate balance between training and over-training.
Studies have shown that female cross country runners have a higher injury percentage than almost any other athletes in scholastic sports.
It’s true that local high schools are not high-powered running machines with millions of dollars in endorsement money on the line.
But it is worth noting that, on a local level, coaches should always keep a close eye on female runners to make sure they are following a proper diet, getting sufficient vitamins and electrolytes and not trying to look gaunt for the sake of running.
“There is a systemic crisis in women’s sports and at Nike,’’ Cain said on the New York Times video, “in which young girls’ bodies are being ruined by an emotionally and physically abusive system.
“That’s what needs to change.’’
Cain offered several recommendations about what should change at Nike. Some of these should set off bells for programs at any level, be it youth, high school or college.
“I got caught in a system designed by and for men which destroys the bodies of young girls,’’ she said. “Rather than force young girls to fend for themselves, we have to protect them.’’
Cain said she plans to run for many years to come. Part of the reason she produced the video was “to end this chapter.’’ And start a new one.
Let’s hope Cain’s message does not fall on deaf ears.
Girls on the Run 5K, 10 a.m., New Hope. Contact www.gotrhunterdon.org
Friday, Nov. 22
Dashin’ through the Lights 2-Miler, 7 p.m., Yardley. Contact www.runsignup.com
Sunday, Nov. 24
Philadelphia Marathon, Philadelphia. Contact www.philadelphiamarathon.com. Registration closes Saturday at midnight.