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Episode #16

Overcome & Rise Above

with Mary Cain

07 Sep, 2020 · Track and Field

Mary Cain, Professional Runner, opens up about the abuse that she faced from her coach in the Nike Oregon Project, and she discusses how she overcame these challenges to become an even better woman athlete today.

Transcript

(background music starts)

Stef

Welcome to the Voice In Sport podcast. I'm your host, Stef Strack, the founder of Voice In Sport. As an athlete, professional, and mom, I have spent the last 20 years advocating for women and innovating across the sports industry. Now, I want to bring more visibility to female athletes and elevate their voice. At Voice In Sport, we share untold stories from female athletes to inspire us all to keep playing and change more than just the game.

Today, our guest is Mary Cain, a professional runner and a member of the VIS League™. In 2013, Mary became the youngest American athlete ever to represent the United States at a world championship at just 17 years old. Following her high school career, Mary ran professionally for the Nike Oregon Project. Last fall, Mary opened up to the New York Times about the physical and mental abuse that she endured while running for Nike under coach Alberto Salazar. 

Today, she dives deep into her experiences and candidly discusses the abuse surrounding her body weight. She walks us through the disordered eating patterns that she developed as a result and how it manifested into extreme mental and physical struggles. Most importantly, Mary shares how she overcame these trials to become the incredible runner and person that she is today. 

She reminds us all that no one is perfect, that it is okay to ask for help, and that the best athletes aren’t those with the most medals, but those who make the greatest impact on the world. Mary, we are so honored to have you with us today. Welcome to the Voice In Sport Podcast. 

Mary

Thanks for having me.

(background music stops)

Stef

I love that your journey started out actually as a swimmer. So, can you tell us a little bit about your journey in sport? What sports did you play growing up? And, how did you end up focusing on running?

Mary

Yeah. So, when I was probably two, my sister probably started also when she was two, my parents wanted us to learn how to swim because they didn't ever have proper instruction. And, I loved swimming and they just kind of kept progressing.

So, they were like, "Oh, they really enjoy it. We'll put them now into a club." And, as we got older and older, I think in particular with me, there was a realization that I'm very competitive, and I really loved it. And, I think I'm also the sort of person that does really well in a sport that there's individual glory to it, but there's also opportunities for teamwork and you really need to lean on other people, but in a way that's maybe not as obvious as in soccer or other team sports. But, I also played soccer; I loved it, but I think they could see that sometimes I was probably getting a little frustrated on the field if I didn't have the ball, as a four year old.

So, they were like, "Mary's doing a lot of running back and forth, and she's not getting the ball a lot, but she's running pretty fast. She's probably covering a lot of ground." And, I think from a young age there was this weird understanding that I was fast. And, did I have any benchmarks? No. As a kindergartener, I was the second or third fastest kid in the class, depending on the day, and there were two boys faster than me. And so, every year in elementary school, I know who was faster than me in my class, and at what point did I become the fastest kid in the grade. That's not normal, I realized, but I think it's just because I really, really loved running.

And, so I remember having a conversation with my parents in sixth grade because, at that point, I had done a couple after-school program miles and ran weirdly fast, and I was almost being recruited to join cross country and track, and I wanted to continue swimming. So, I did that in sixth and seventh grade, but I did outdoor track in seventh grade. And, at that point, I qualified for my first ever state meet, and I was on our national four by mile. And so, from there it was just like, "Oh, pretty good at it. It's been confirmed."  

(laughs) 

And so, in eighth grade, I did an extra season. And then, by freshman year I did cross country, and I've never looked back.

Stef

So, you're the youngest athlete to run for a world championship team by qualifying for the 1500 final in the 2013 World Championships. How did it feel to be really successful at such a young age?

Mary

I didn't really stop and reflect on it at the time very often, because for me, I didn't look at myself as being the best. So, I always wanted to get better, and I always felt and knew that I could get better. So, if I wasn't my best, then I wasn't necessarily taking time to really soak it in. And, that's not to say that I wasn't enjoying it, but I don't think I was walking around the halls of Bronxville High being like, "Oh, I've been to the World Championships." If anything, I think I was more like, "I've been, but I was only 10."

And, I think that was really healthy for me because I was able to really soak in the experience, love it, enjoy it. But, while still in high school, there was this world that I had created where running wasn't all that I was. And, even though it was probably the most important part of me, and I was really proud of what I had accomplished, I was always ready and excited for the next step. Just as much as I was happy about the last one.

Stef

So, what year did you stop swimming and playing soccer and only focus on running? How old were you then?

Mary

I was a freshman in high school. So, once I entered high school, I fully transitioned to running full time. I ran cross country, indoor track and outdoor track, and it was probably running  five, six days a week. 

Stef

So, when did you start to feel the pressure to perform and to really shift into that mindset of, "Wow. Okay. There are some expectations here." 

Mary

There was a shift when I entered college and it's not to say that beforehand, I wasn't super nervous before a lot of those races... It's more, "I was nervous. So, I really wanted to make the team. I really want it to do well."  It was very much an internal thing, and it was almost exclusively that. Where if I didn't run well, normally my parents would be like, "Here's a milkshake. Let's go home," and I'd be sad for an hour and then move on. But in college, I moved out to Portland to join the professional team that I was already a part of  full time.

And, really the summer after I graduated from high school, there was a very sharp shift of, "I'm running. My nerves are for me about me, and within me," to "I have to perform for other people." And, looking back, the World Championship 3000 meter junior title that I won was the last race, for a long time, that I ran for myself, and after that, it became very much external pressure.

Stef

And so, how do you think your running career would have been different had you gone to college right after high school versus  right into working with the Nike crew?

Mary

So first off, I did go to college, but I was a student, not a student-athlete, and then I was an athlete. So, it was like space rather than a dash, if that makes sense. But, I don't know, and the reason I say that is because it's so dependent on the program that I joined. And, being totally honest, I would have joined the program because the only program I was being allowed to join probably would have had the exact same problems.

And, my story, when I shared it this past November in the New York times, the reason it resonated with so many people is not because I wasn’t some one-off, "Oh, that's sad that happened to her. Now I'm going to move on" moment. It was a story that a lot of women read, watched, and said, "That was me."

And so, it's something where if I had been in the wrong high school program, it could have happened to me then. Had I been in the wrong middle school program, it could have happened to me then. Had I been in the wrong environment in college, I totally was susceptible to the same issues. So, being a professional, wasn't why it happened, but it was egregious, and there was so many other moments that shouldn't have happened. And so, I think that's why there's more, "Oh my God. Even they did it!?" But, not shock that it happened, if that makes sense.

Stef

Absolutely.  Girls are going back to school, and they're going back to college right now. But, if you're a high school girl and you're trying to make that decision,  you're one of the best in the world or you're really progressing in your running career. Do I go pro or do I go to college and run  NCAA? How would you help girls with that decision? What would you tell them?

Mary

I think what the most important thing for anybody is: what's your environment going to be? So, whether your title is a collegiate athlete, maybe transferring high schools because that's an opportunity or going pro it's just: what team are you joining? And, what team would have been the other option? And, it's really just comparing the two. 

So, if you're being recruited by different colleges take a look at the team, take a look at what the coach values, where different girls have been. Go on your trip, and sit down with them, and even eat a meal.  And so, I think  the difference between going pro and going to the NCAA system is there have been women who have done incredibly well, who went pro right away, but most of them stayed close to home. And, it was because they were in a setup where they were super supported,  their careers were going to be cultivated, and they just stayed in the program that worked. I did the program that helped me do well in high school.

(laughs)  

But, I went through this big move, and I think I was not seeing the program as it really was because I wasn't actually there on the day to day. And so, the program I was seeing in high school was very different from what the setup was actually. And so, that's why the people who maybe grew up in LA stayed in LA, went to college in LA, but was with the same coach who they saw day in and day out, I think tended to do a little bit better.

Stef

So, let's talk about your decision to go to Oregon after high school and join the Oregon Project. It was a big story in 2019 that came out about what actually happened in your experience there working with Alberto Salazar and Nike, and the emotional and physical abuse that you went through. And unfortunately, there have been a lot of studies recently that show female athletes in general can be in an environment where they feel  a huge amount of pressure to conform and look a certain way.

Most recently, Michigan State came out with a survey that said 80% of female athletes feel pressure to conform to a certain look or body type. So, I want to go really deep in this area with your experience, and hopefully we can help a lot of girls here. So again, you're in high school, you're one of the fastest girls in the world. You make this decision to move to Portland and join the club. What happens next?

Mary

So, my experience initially started back when I was in high school, where I first linked up with the team, was unofficially on the team before I went pro, and then turned pro and was on the team all while in high school. And during that time, I got to know or at least I thought I got to know everybody. But, it was all from this lens of being 3000 miles, apart and not seeing everybody every day and almost having a buffer through my coach here and my parents who could always be like, "Oh, maybe don't listen to that thing. Just go to sleep. Don't do that second round. You're good. Just go to bed." While, my coach here would be able to say, "Hey, you don't need to eat like that. You're doing fine," and I would almost just have this second layer and this extra separation from the group. 

And, when I ultimately moved out there in July of 2014, very quickly became about my weight, and I was pretty much constantly told that the reason I wasn't running well, and mind you, I had just come in second at USA's in the 1500 and won the world junior championships, but I was not running well by their standards. And, the reason they were giving me was because of my weight, and I was given a very specific number; I had to weigh 114 pounds. I'm 5'7", and now that I know a little bit more about  weight and what's healthy, my 15 year old self, who was probably shorter than 5'7" could maybe naturally be leaner because I wasn't a woman, and maybe I didn't have boobs yet.

And, I am very coachable, and so I was like, "You got it. You want me to be 114? I will get there." And, within three months over the course of the summer or probably quicker, because in retrospect, I was probably losing two pounds a week, I shredded myself down. And, over the course of the time, I lost my period. I talked to my coaches about my concern with that. And, I initially wasn't maybe as honest with  how much the disordered eating patterns that I was picking up were. upsetting me. But,  it was always met with, "Toughen up. You are heavy. You should be losing that weight. If your body can't do that, that's your fault. Maybe don't eat salt." 

Stef

What were some of those eating disorder signals? If you were to just talk about a few of those during that moment, what were they, looking back now on it? What were the things that you were doing?  

Mary

First thing is something that a lot of us do. And, I think a lot of people don't necessarily realize it can be very problematic, which is calorie counting, which it started off super business, like I'm working with a ton of non-nutritional experts... 

Stef

Which is a problem!

Mary

Which is, right off the bat, a red flag , and they're going to sit me down and do the math:  3,500 calories is a pound. So, if you can cut that every week, then you're going to lose a pound a week. And, the numbers they were giving me for how much I was burning-- not correct, not good math there. And so, I would try to shave  500 to 1000 calories a day off of how much I was eating so that I could lose 1-2 pounds a week. 

From there, it turned into my mind and self-hatred over being unsuccessful with that. So, it almost started off being like, "Oh, this is okay. It's just a math equation" to seeping into  my self-worth. And, if you're an athlete, you need to be working with a professional and they should tell you what to eat. There's no such thing as good foods and bad foods by the way, but just what is going to help you in terms of maybe protein or carbs or different things like that, and your body's going to do the rest. It's going to burn what it burns; it's going to crave what it craves. Listen to it.

But, as my self-worth was decreasing, that's when the obvious eating disorder, expressions were taking shape where I was becoming irritable, I was starting to bloat a lot, which is a symptom that can happen to people who are dropping weight and fluctuating very quickly. And, it's a defense mechanism within your body. Very often, your face can get pretty puffy, sometimes, kind of a literal, physical sign that somebody is maybe under eating. And, I'm only sharing this so that,  if there's somebody you're a little worried about you can, share and work through that with them. 

And, then it started manifesting itself in even more dangerous ways where the negative self-talk turned to suicidal thoughts and turned to self-harm. I was a cutter, and it just continued to spiral down and down and  happened really quick. Where I went from healthy, feeling confident, super positive July 2014, to March 2015, really in a bad place.

And I, for years, thought that was because I must be really weak. I must have no backbone. I must be messed up. All these negative thoughts about myself, but the truth is the environment was so toxic, and I was so absorbed in it and only around that, that we weren't talking about weight once a day, we were talking about it all day, constantly came back to weight. If I ran well, "Oh, you look good." If I ran bad, the next day, "You've gained five pounds." And, I think that level of intensity for me, made it very, very quick in progression. But, different people are different, and for some people it might happen over the course of time that each of these warning signs build,  and not everybody's going to manifest in the same way. But, in general, those early kind of things tend to be similar amongst female athletes.

Stef

What do you do if you're a girl listening to this podcast, and now that you've just contextualized how an eating disorder might actually be appearing in our lives, what do you do? What's the recommended action, especially if you have maybe a coach that is causing a lot of these things, what should they do?

Mary

The most important first step is to talk to somebody, and for some people that first person, it's easier.  For example, if you're in a college situation and you have a campus counselor that you can speak to and just share what's happening. Sometimes, just the act of sharing can give you a lot of insight on what steps I need to take next.

But then, I think it's really important to share within two  other communities. And one is the actual community that you are a part of. So, if you feel that your coach is the issue and you feel unsafe or in a risky situation to talk to them directly, talk to a teammate, talk to an assistant coach, talk to somebody you trust within the team. If that goes nowhere, talk to the next person and keep going down the line of people you think might be able to help you until it's clear nobody's going to, and then you have to get yourself out. And, I would say maybe talk to at least three adults. And if nobody's doing anything, get out of that situation. 

But, also right away talk to  people outside of that sport world, that you're a part of or people who are not in the world that are causing the problem, because what happened to me was, I was constantly talking to people that, "I don't think this is okay. I'm not healthy. I'm not having good thoughts." And, I ran the list dry. I talked to anybody who would listen within the world, but sometimes those people aren't ready to listen, or they're just a part of the problem. So, it's equally important to talk to somebody who's outside of it, whether it's a family member, friend, somebody who's maybe within your, for example, college system like a professor or another adult.

It's just incredibly important to have people that you can speak to and who can maybe advocate for you or make actual changes if nobody within the program itself is going to listen. And, if you feel that your coach isn't the problem or isn't necessarily perpetuating the issue, then of course, talk to them. They can be an incredible resource and ally, but if somebody is kind of the issue and you don't feel they're somebody who would take well to you speaking out and saying, "You are causing damage to me," then you have to find other people both internally and externally.

Stef

And, when was that moment, looking back, where you realized that you were being treated unfairly by your coaches and that you were in an environment that was  abusive? When was that moment, and what exact steps did you take to change your course for your future?

Mary

So, there were almost two separate moments for me. There was the moment I realized I had to leave, and there was the moment that I realized it was an abusive relationship and they were four and a half years apart from each other. So, I realized that I had to physically leave in May of 2015, and I officially left the team a year later.

But, I left because I realized nobody was going to get me help. And, I had finally told my head coach and the person who is calling themselves a sports psych, but who is not an actual sports psychologist and has no board certification.  

(chuckles) 

So, he would tell everything I told to the coach. And, in that moment, I didn't think, "Wow, that's really messed up." I thought, " Wow, I'm really messed up,"  and it took four and a half years for me to realize that's not fair for me to say to myself.  

Stef

And, it's a very important distinction, those two different frames of mind. 

Mary

It's incredibly important because I think there are so many women who for years thought, "Everybody's normalizing this. So, it must be me. I have to be the issue," and it wasn't until a month before my New York Times piece came out, whenever the report against my coach came out, that I read it.

And, in so many moments, it mentioned that my coach had lied about something. And, I think seeing that on paper made me suddenly realize, "Wow, I've been living a lie. I've been blaming myself for something that, again, maybe I could have sought help sooner or worked with different professionals or done things differently and better. But, I wasn't the one who was messed up, the situation was." And, just being able to make that shift is why within a month, there was a New York Times piece out. And, it was because, for years I was in denial and I almost didn't know that something was bad.

Stef

And, it's so inspiring to see how you then used your voice to tell your story. And, it has already helped so many girls  because  studies show that female athletes are really unfortunately put under a lot of pressure by coaches and that when you are getting  pressure on you to change your body, you are also more likely to get injured and have lifelong effects on your body. So, can you talk to us about what that sort of shaving of the weight did to your physical body and how you have recovered from it?

Mary

So, I developed amenorrhea, which is when you don't have a period.   And, there are forms of amenorrhea that are not related to weight issues. But, in my case, it was because I was developing REDS, which is Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport.  Essentially,  I was training too much, I was eating too little, and therefore my hormones were getting lower. And so, that's usually for women, a really obvious sign, you have a problem. Men can also have REDS. It's just they don't have the same early point of,  "This is a problem," and they can almost seemingly last a little bit longer before it becomes a serious issue. 

I lost my period for a little over three years, and, by the end of that time, I started to develop multiple stress fractures. And, even after I had gotten my period back for about four months after I still developed two different stress fractures because over the course of that three years, I also started to see a drop in my bone density and I had to go through a very sharp turn there so that I didn't develop osteoporosis. And, luckily because we took the actions we did and caught it at an early enough stage, I was able to reverse bone damage.  

And, I think it has to be said, I don't think my long-term fertility has been affected, but having that can affect it. So, there are certain sides to the story that I hope we won't learn about later, but, it's something that is an issue. And, I was lucky that I was not on birth control when I was a freshman in college.  I knew I lost my period, but one issue for some girls is that they don't even get that because they're on birth control, and they're maybe getting induced periods and different things like that.

And, therefore they don't even have the same warning sign. So, if you do have amenorrhea, don't listen to the first doctor that tells you to go on the pill. That's my biggest piece of advice. I'm not saying that that doesn't sometimes make sense for where you are in your life. I'm not giving medical opinions in that way, but just for amenorrhea treatment, you have to make sure you're seeing a professional within women's sports who understands the fact that you're not here for a placebo effect. You're here to get healthy.

Stef

And, it's a tough decision when you're an athlete or you're female when you're young, and you're trying to decide, should I go on birth control?  And, I think it's so important, what you said is that if you do go on birth control, then it can mask and hide some of these issues that are pretty common in the running world. So, it's so important then to be fueling your body with the right nutrition.

Mary

Yes.  In no way, am I anti- any form of hormonal birth control. I've been on different forms myself, and at this point in my life personally, I don't want to be on a hormonal pill or any sort of birth control because for me,  I've had issues. And so, I want to make sure every single month I am getting it. And, for another woman who's like, "Nope, I'm super confident. I'm eating right. I'm working with my nutritionist," whatever it is, you might not need that. But, if you're a little bit concerned, and you're listening to this and thinking, " I don't know," then maybe talk to your doctor, and maybe they can help you, figure out what makes sense for you.  

Stef

So, here you are at this  pretty pivotal moment in your young running career at Nike. You decide to leave, you go through a lot, you're getting yourself back.  So, how did you get yourself out of that slump? And, now that you have this different perspective on the importance of body and mind and nutrition coming together, how are you creating that support system? And, just generally, tell us about how you came back.

Mary

So, I think, first off I have to thank all of the medical professionals I've worked with from the physical therapists, nutritionists, doctors. And,  I come from a very privileged position, not only just do I have the finances and the insurance to be able to be working with people who are great within industry, but my dad's also a physician.

So, when it became clear, and I was honest because for a long time, I wasn't with the issues that I was experiencing, he really was able to direct me in the right direction.  He's not a  specialist in any of this, but having that resource helps. And so, I know I'm very lucky to have been, in certain ways, in the position that I was, because I could work with really great people.

But, I think what it really came down to and why I'm still running  is first off because I just love running, physically I love running. But, beyond that, through the doctors I've worked with, from my running buddies to my family, to my friends who don't care about running, but care about me, I've just almost been able to create a world for myself where if I showed up to work one day and was like, "Yeah, you know, I just want to run for fun."

Everyone would be like, "That's awesome. Little sad you're not running pro anymore, but cool!" My boyfriend would be like, "Oh, maybe you'll run with me more!"  Maybe a little sad that I'm not going to be pursuing that, but ready for whatever comes next. Same with my family, same with my friends. And even my coach, I think is somebody who is absolutely incredible, and at this point in my life, more of a friend even than just a coach. 

And so, for me, I think knowing that there is nobody in my life who would be screaming in the other room, like, "No you have to keep going! I'm not done yet!"  I know it's coming from me, and that makes me fight harder, that makes me push more because there's nobody who's forcing me to do anything. And so, it's the same person I was in high school where  my parents didn't care whether I was on the track team or not, my friends didn't care. They were just really happy for me that I found something I loved. And so, the fact that it's from within again, that crazy competitive kid, who knew this boy was faster than me in second grade and didn't like it, really wants to train hard and push hard again.

Stef

So, in the opinion piece in the New York Times last year, you said you joined Nike because you wanted to be the best female athlete.  Now, you have this different perspective on what you can do with your platform and your experience. So, what is your purpose now? What is your why, now?

Mary

Honestly, I still want to be the best female athlete, but I think what that means to me is very different, where in the past, I thought winning the most metals, having the most records, having the most followers on social media, even though my high school self didn't even have social media. But, now I realize that hell yeah, I want to win like 50 million golds and set X, Y, and Z record.  I still have that drive and that dream, but I realized that  I think Megan Rapinoe is the greatest female athlete right now. And, yeah, she's incredible in soccer and she is super cool, but she's also really nice and is an advocate for things she believes in and speaks out and ruffles some feathers and says things that maybe not everybody wants to hear but are her truth. And so, that's the athlete I want to be. And, I don't really think I can top what I did in November in terms of being the best female athlete, but I'm going to try. I'm going to see what else I can do, and it's not going to be my metals. Those will be fun for me, but that's not why I'm going to be the best. And so, it's finding ways to strive to be that.

Stef

I can tell you already that you're doing an amazing job because opening up and talking about these things is going to make you one of the best female athletes around. Not very many people are willing to open up and talk about these things, about suicidal thoughts, about body image, about mental pressures.

That's why we're doing this podcast. That's why we're creating this community so that it can become more normal, and I think that this is something that you're leading and I'm very proud to see you doing that. So thank you.

Mary

Thank you.

Stef

Okay. So one of the things our podcast is about is sharing untold stories. I feel like you shared all of your story very openly. 

(laughs)  

So, I'm curious to see how you're going to answer this question. Is there an untold story you want to share with the female athletes out there about your journey?

Mary

That's a good question.  I feel an important more point rather than story is the fact that,  I've done a lot of podcasts, I've done a lot of interviews, I've done a lot of speeches, and I think therefore people think that I have it all together and  that I don't have negative thoughts, that I don't sometimes look at myself in the mirror and think, "I'm 15 pounds heavier than that goal weight," or that, you know, everything's really cool because I live in New York  whatever you can think about somebody who's in the public eye.

I really want to say there's literally nobody out there who has it all together or is fully out of the woods with these sort of issues or maybe ever will be. But, it's more about learning how to be okay with who you are, proud of who you are, love who you are, and when those thoughts happen, when those panics happen, I'm somebody who I suffer from panic attacks and, sometimes things are going amazing and one thing happens and it just sets me off in a way.

And, I normally don't talk about that but that still happens to me. And, I'm not ashamed to say that, but I think people forget it. Even in my experience, there have been times where there's been almost a combativeness from people being like, "Well, you have to do things for us," and if I'm really kind of overwhelmed or going through a struggle, I think sometimes people don't give me the grace to do that because they're like, "No, no, no. You shared your story. You're okay now." And, they don't realize that I have really shitty days and sometimes I will get off a call and if I've been really rehashing the past, I will cry about it.  Even if I sounded so good on that podcast, I will have a good cry and I almost want to share with people that's okay. 

Stef

I think it's so important that we all recognize that it's okay to say you're not okay.  And that's why I always find it really annoying when people are like, "Hey how are you doing?" And they don't really want to hear how you're doing. And, we get in this really bad habit as humans to say, "Oh yeah, fine."  There is a  societal problem we should try to shift.   

Mary

That's exactly it. Especially within the social media world, I'm somebody who I don't like to always share things until I'm almost ready to, and it's not so much that things are bad or negative before I share, but it's just more if I don't have something to reflect on, it's just going to be unhelpful for people if I share  versus  "Hey, I've learned from this. if you're going through it, let me help you." And so, it's always kind of important to take everything a little bit with a grain of salt and know there's no perfect person and you will never be perfect. And as a perfectionist, that's really hard to hear and that's me.  

Stef

What is your philosophy, then, on mental health and sports psychs? Do you have one, are you working with one now? What would be your number one learning of working with one?

Mary

So, I'm currently working with a therapist - psychologist, versus a sports psychologist. And, the reason was I had to make that choice because for years I was working with somebody who was amazing. I love her, but I was lying when I would go into those sessions. And, I think the reason was because I was like, "This is sports. This is performance. I have to be on."  For me, it's more I need to be strong in the head for me. Not for my run, not for anybody else. It has to be for me.

And so, sometimes we talk about running. Sometimes we talk about other things and what I have to work on is just always knowing I can't control everything and that's in running and that's in life. And so I, right now, at this point in my life, rather working with somebody who's full picture.

Stef

So, important and I love that you're looking at it holistically. I think that's a great approach. Okay. So, our final three questions, I ask all of the guests on Voice In Sport.  What superpower do you gain from sport and how are you going to use it to drive something positive?

Mary

For me, the superpower I've almost always gotten from it is just confidence. If you can share that with other people, and if you can share that with yourself, you're gonna really help people.

Stef

If you feel like you are lacking confidence, what do you do as a girl? That's one of the main reasons why girls fall out of sport.

Mary

I think a lot of what I've always kind of tapped back into is, and this is not for everybody, this is truly just me, I tap into a little bit of anger with confidence. And, I think as women we're really discouraged from being angry, like angry and women are not synonymous in whatever the heck our rule books are. And so for me,  that's kind of my chance to be a little pissed or competitive, and some of those descriptors that we've unfairly given to boys, repossess them for women.

Stef

So, what are three words, single words that you would use to describe your journey in sport as a female athlete? And, they don't all have to be positive, just real and honest.

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Mary

I think struggle.  We usually have a negative connotation with that word, but I feel it can be kind of both ways. And so, both healthy struggle and unhealthy struggle I've really went through. I think there's been a lot of courage in it, whether it's just mid race being like, "I'm going for it" or courage to speak up about my experience. And, most cliché, just journey. There's going to be ups, there's going to be downs, but it's just part of the journey. 

Stef

What is one single piece of advice you would give to all the girls in sport out there?

Mary

I always come back to just have fun with it and find your "why." Find what keeps it fun, makes it fun, and defend that, fight for that, keep that. And, if somebody tries to take it away from you say, "Nope, I'm going to run with somebody else. I'm going to play with somebody else." Just keep it fun.

Stef

Love it, Mary, thank you so much for opening up and sharing  your personal journey with us. I know it's going to help a lot of girls and we're incredibly excited to have you part of the VIS League.

Mary

Yeah, thank you so much. This has been really fun.

Stef

Thank you, Mary, for your willingness to be vulnerable and truly open up about the mental and physical struggles that you endured in your journey in sport and how you rose above those challenges to become an even stronger woman and athlete today. Your story is truly inspiring, and your mentorship as a part of the VIS League™ will help a lot of young girls out there in sport. We love what you said about being the best athlete: it’s not the medals that make you the best, but rather the impact that you have on the world, and we truly believe that you are an amazing athlete because you are committed to changing more than just the game.  

You can follow Mary on Instagram @runmarycain. Please subscribe to the Voice in Sport Podcast and give us a rating. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok @voiceinsport and if you are interested in joining our Community as a member you will have access to exclusive Content, Mentorship from female athletes and Advocacy tools - check out voiceinsport.com. And if you are passionate about accelerating Sports Science and research on the female athletic body check out voiceinsporfoundation.org and get involved.

 Host: Stef Strack

Producer: VIS Creator™ Anya Miller

Mary Cain, Professional Runner, opens up about the abuse that she faced from her coach in the Nike Oregon Project, and she discusses how she overcame these challenges to become an even better woman athlete today.