Mary Cain, an otherworldly middle distance runner as a high schooler in suburban New York City in the mid-2010s, wanted to be known as the greatest female athlete ever. Her talent and drive took her to the elite Nike track club in Oregon during her late teens. The legendary Alberto Salazar, who coached Cain at Nike, called her the most talented athlete he’d ever seen.
Her performance level waned while at Nike and Cain largely faded from view, until she recorded a must-watch video Op Ed last November in The New York Times. It revealed a long-term pattern of systemic verbal and physical abuse from Salazar and his coaching staff — centered around pushing and shaming her to lose weight — that led to a physical and emotional breakdown.
Now in a much better place, Cain is back on the track, training for a shot at next summer’s Tokyo Olympics. She also has become a powerful advocate for the rights of female athletes, especially as it relates to protecting them from destructive behavior from a system that breeds abusive coaches.
The Fordham University alum also recently decided to get involved in the climate change fight. And EcoAthletes is happy to announce that she has become the newest member of our Champions roster.
EcoAthletes interviewed Cain briefly about her interest in the environment, becoming a climate advocate and more.
EcoAthletes: What prompted your interest in climate change — as well as your willingness to use your platform to speak out on climate change?
Mary Cain: When I was little, I was always incredibly diligent about recycling and finding easy opportunities to feel involved in helping the environment. As I’ve gotten older, I realize there is so much more we have to do to help protect this planet, and many of the high-impact changes need to come from government and community interventions. In order to make positive changes, we all need to use our voices and I’m happy to add mine.
EcoAthletes: You are well-known for being a world class runner — and for having been emotionally and physically abused by a world famous coach. How does it feel to broaden the issues about which you speak to include climate?
Mary: It feels like a natural next step for me to advocate for change in the world. I have learned the importance of using my voice to stand up for what I believe in, and how powerful the voice of an athlete is. Now that I’ve learned the power of my voice, I want to learn more about how I can use it to spread change, especially about the existential issue of climate change.
EcoAthletes: What led you to become an EcoAthletes Champion?
Mary: I am a huge proponent of using education as a tool to create change. EcoAthletes’ goal is to offer athletes the opportunity to take classes to learn more about climate change and other environmental issues and feel comfortable and confident talking about such issues. This idea of spreading awareness and information through an educational platform is really exciting to me.
EcoAthletes founder Lew Blaustein believes Cain will be a difference-maker for the organization.
“Mary Cain brings authenticity, credibility and consistent passion to whatever she does,” offered Blaustein. “We are thrilled that she will be bringing those qualities to bear on climate as an EcoAthletes Champion and look forward to working with her to help spur a much needed #ClimateComeback.”
Photo at top: Mary Cain on a training run along the East River on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (Photo credit: Ashley Gilbertson)