All About Atalanta NYC

We were featured in the news!
An article from the Atalanta Newsletter
written by Karisa Nelson:
Atalanta at Lehman High School

Jess was the very first runner to show up to our mentorship session last July. We could tell immediately that she was incredibly driven; she was hungry to learn and to apply her newfound knowledge to the track and just as eager to share everything she’d learned with her teammates. The very next session, she brought along her teammates Krystell and Anthony. 
  Four months and many sessions later, Jess shared how stressed she was at that initial session; it was difficult to juggle high school, sports, college applications, and a job. She really wanted to attend Sunday sessions, but she was overworked and overwhelmed. “Well, maybe we could come to you?” I said. “We could go to your high school once a week and run the same programming we do here!” Her eyes widened. “Are you serious?” I nodded. She beamed and exclaimed “Okay! I think our coach would love that!”
Two weeks and a few logistical hoops later, I was on the 6 train going to the second to last stop in the Bronx. When I walked into the school, the first thing I saw was a line to go through the metal detectors. I waited for a second until they asked if I was a coach and waved me through. I went to the basement and found a sea of kids in athletic clothes. The women's coach, Andronico, walked up to me and introduced himself. I was shocked when I found out they were having practice inside the basement. They had no gym access and it was too dark outside. They had to run and do drills in the tight hallways. 
Andronico and I walked to the coaches office so I could lock up my belongings. He told me a lot of the kids weren't at practice. I asked why and he replied that there wasn’t really a reason, they just wouldn’t attend consistently, and a lot of them didn’t show up to races. When we returned to the team, the kids had formed two long lines to do drills. The hallway wouldn’t allow more than two people side by side.
Halfway through drills Krystell showed up. When she saw me her eyes widened like she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “I knew you were talking about coming to the school, but I never thought we would see the day!” 
I remember the first time I ran with Krystell, when she was huffing and puffing after five minutes. She told me she was a 200m runner. I joked with her that she would end up becoming a distance runner, to which she responded with a dubious look. A month later we got a text from her saying that she had just run two miles on her own. She said she was so proud of herself she was crying. We were so proud of her. Next thing we knew, she was on the cross country team! At the last race of the cross season Krystell won a medal. She was so shocked that when they went to hand it to her she thought they had the wrong girl. More proud tears from her (as well as from us). Now she talks about running a marathon one day.
In the high school basement the kids began to assemble into groups for the workout. As they lined up Andronico told me more about the program. He was very open about not knowing much about distance training, and that the kids had never had a female coach. He told me that I could run Wednesday practices to help make up for these gaps in knowledge. 
Before the workout started I offered to help anyone if they had questions. A couple kids walked over to me, asking about this or that ache or pain: how to make it better, how to get better.  When I spoke to them they were respectful and eager to learn. If chatter stirred while I was speaking they would shush each other. It was clear they were passionate about becoming better athletes. They just needed the information and attention to get there.
The workout was three then two then one “lap.” A lap was a loop through the hallways. After the first set, I approached the girls group. “Okay, I’m going to run this one too,” I announced. One of the girls looked at me shocked as I toed the line with them, “You’re actually going to run with us??” 
“If I'm going to ask you to run, I’m going to run too,” I said with a smile. She smiled and nodded back, and we all ran together, dodging doorways and bouncing off the hallway walls. 
As practice ended and people began to disperse Anthony walked up to me with a concerned look on his face. “Are you okay? You didn’t say much," he asked. “I just want to see what your coach has you do before I implement any new training.” I replied.
Anthony was another early Atalanta mentee. He came to the Atalanta sessions consistently and always brought fun and positive energy. One Sunday after a cold fall session, I took the kids to a bodega near the track for a hot sandwich. Anthony had been attending the practices for a couple months at that point. They were a group of four kids, all of us chatting, and I said something that made Anthony pause and look at me with surprise. “Oh, you actually care!” he exclaimed. I laughed. I was glad they noticed we cared, and that they realized we weren't just here to do a song and dance then twirl away forever. We’re here to stay. 

A month after that first high school practice, Jess, Krystell, and Anthony came to our usual Sunday session with two new Lehman kids, Kadeem and Malik. Every time I saw Kadeem he gave me a big grin and called me “Miss”. Malik was a bit shy when I saw him at Lehman. I honestly never expected him to show up to a Sunday practice because every time I corrected his form he didn’t take it well. I was surprised to see him there, but I was even more surprised when he approached me after practice. “Miss, I just wanted to say thank you for everything you're doing. I really want to get better, and I really appreciate it.” 
That day we all took the 1 train to get back home. When Jess and Krystell got off they pressed their hands against the train before it left, crying goodbye, then walked arm and arm as the train carried me onwards.

All of Atalanta’s summer sessions and high school practices have fueled our  desire to further our mission. These athletes want to become better runners and to learn to get the best out of themselves. But they need access to information, resources, and attention from people who care. That is exactly who we are. That is what Atalanta is here to do: We lift up and support the young athletes of tomorrow and help guide them through the twists and turns the sport will show them. Whether they want to become the best athlete they can or just enjoy the camaraderie of the sport, we are here for them. That’s the Atalanta mission.
We were featured in the news!
An article from Runner's World:
"Mary Cain Forms a Professional Women’s Running Team, With the Athletes as Employees"
Written by Sarah Lorge Butler.
An excerpt from the article:

Mary Cain—who rose to running fame as a teen phenom, turned pro and signed with Nike out of high school, and then called attention to what she called emotional and physical abuse by her coaches—has a new role: CEO and President of Atalanta NYC, a professional women’s running team.

The organization, founded by Cain (and operating largely, for now, from the dining room table in her Upper West Side apartment) will be different than other pro running groups that dominate the landscape of elite running.

Atalanta will be a nonprofit service organization. Pro runners will train in the mornings, as elite athletes do, and work for the nonprofit in the afternoons and on weekends. The nonprofit seeks to mentor girls in underserved areas of New York City, with programming around community, education, and movement.

To start, runners will earn a salary of $60,000 per year. They’ll be paid as employees and they’ll get benefits, including health insurance.To start, runners will earn a salary of $60,000 per year. They’ll be paid as employees and they’ll get benefits, including health insurance.

The name “Atalanta” comes from Greek mythology and refers to a speedy mortal. Also, the U.S.’s first high-performance team for women was based in New York in the 1980s and had the same name.
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We were featured in the news!
An article and podcast from Rich Roll:
"Mary Cain – Shaping the Future of Female Running"
Written by Rich Roll.
An excerpt from the article:

A cornerstone of this podcast is the power of sport to catalyze personal and societal change, cultivate confidence, and ultimately transform lives.

But what happens when sport breaks you?

If you’ve listened to my conversations with Lindsay Crouse and Lauren Fleshman, you know this story is all too familiar within athletic institutions—particularly Nike. Today’s guest is busting this paradigm.

Meet Mary Cain.

Established as the fastest girl in a generation by the time she reached high school, Mary was only 16 when she qualified for the Olympic Trials. At 17, she became the youngest American track and field athlete to make a world championship, competing in Moscow in the 1500 meters.

Olympic glory seemed a foregone conclusion. Until that is, she joined Nike’s elite Oregon Project team run by infamous coach Alberto Salazar.

And that's when everything changed.
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We were featured in the news!
An article from Women's Running:
Mary Cain: “Creating a Super Healthy, Positive Dynamic is My Biggest Priority”
Written by Erin Strout.
An excerpt from the article:

The former teen prodigy is taking her toxic experiences in sport to make it better for other women and girls through Atalanta NYC.

“Although it’s been overwhelming and a lot to do, it’s been so rewarding going through this entrepreneurial process and knowing that I’m going to ultimately walk the walk instead of just talk the talk around all the advocacy work I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Cain, now 25, said in an interview with Women’s Running earlier in June.

Atalanta is part pro women’s running team and part service organization. The women who are recruited to the team won’t sign traditional athlete contracts, they’ll become employees of the nonprofit organization, taking roles that further their careers after they’re finished competing. They’ll also each serve as mentors to underserved girls in the New York community, for whom Atalanta is creating educational and movement-based programs.

“I have seen all the stats and it’s staggering how much of a dropout rate there is for girls in sport,” Cain said. “A lot of the experiences I underwent as a young athlete unfortunately are systemic.”

Cain joined the Nike Oregon Project under Alberto Salazar, foregoing NCAA eligibility in 2013 to sign a pro contract. She moved from Bronxville, New York, to Portland, Oregon, at age 17, a national high school record holder and the youngest to ever represent the U.S. at the world championships. She came forward in a 2019 New York Times op-ed alleging emotional abuse by Salazar, who she said pressured her to lose weight and publicly shamed her if she didn’t, in a win-at-all-costs team culture.

Salazar has denied the allegations and is appealing a temporarily ban from coaching by the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

Ultimately Cain said she suffered five stress fractures, didn’t menstruate for three years, and suffered depression that led to cutting herself. She officially left the team in 2016 and finished college at Fordham University, earning a degree in business administration. She’s now a community manager at the running apparel brand Tracksmith and is continuing to get back to pro running, too.

“I was lucky to come from a privileged background, one where I was able to pull myself out of it,” Cain said. “I was able to work with the doctors I needed to see and to continue my college education and ultimately find a career path.”

Cain knows that not all girls would have had the resources to emerge on the other side—and aims to prevent these kinds of situations altogether through the Atalanta. The programs are based on the three pillars of education, community, and movement. And the programs encompass the pro team, the community (membership-based) team, and the youth team, open to girls ages 12-20.
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Big News Travels Fast.

We were featured in the news!
An article from The New York Times:
"Naomi Osaka and the Power of ‘Nope’"
Written by Lindsay Crouse.
An excerpt from the article:

Women have long functioned as bit players in sports industries designed by and for men. Now Ms. Osaka, who at 23 is the top-earning female athlete in history, is part of a growing group of female athletes who are betting that they’ll be happier — and maybe perform better, too — by setting their own terms. Increasingly, they have the stature and influence to do so.

In 2019, the runner Mary Cain, now 25, explained how rather than continue to harm her mental health by competing for Nike’s famed track coach Alberto Salazar, she left the sport in 2017 for a few years — and wound up changing it. She is starting a new kind of women’s track team, in which the athletes are employees of a nonprofit instead of working for a corporation.

“It makes sense that younger athletes are beginning to stand up for themselves,” Ms. Cain told me after Ms. Osaka’s withdrawal. “Our expectations have changed.”

Ms. Cain continued, “When athletes are not protected, they should be able to make choices that protect themselves. It’s like saying you don’t want to be with a company that doesn’t treat you well.”
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We were featured in the news!
An article from Outside:
"Running’s Cultural Reckoning Is Long Overdue"
Written by Christine Yu.
An excerpt from the article:

Since Mary Cain spoke out about the Nike Oregon Project in 2019, a growing wave of young runners have come forward with their own allegations of negligent coaching and toxic team cultures across the sport.

Runners are often known for ignoring the first signs of injury and hoping a niggle doesn’t turn into something more serious. Suffering is just part of the ethos of the sport. At collegiate and elite levels, athletes don’t always feel comfortable making waves by questioning coaching practices and team behaviors—like inadequate rest and recovery for injuries, or disordered eating habits—especially when there are sponsorships or scholarships on the line. But the dialogue in the running world began to shift in November 2019; in a video op-ed for The New York Times, former Nike Oregon Project (NOP) athlete Mary Cain detailed the physical and mental harm she experienced while working with coach Alberto Salazar. She alleged that the unhealthy training environment under Salazar, including public weight shaming, led to three years of missed periods, five broken bones due to poor nutrition, and suicidal ideation. She spoke plainly about what she saw as the crux of the issue: the system was broken, and the sport’s culture made it difficult for young women to thrive. This wasn’t about one coach’s behavior or one athlete’s inability to endure. It was about the cumulative physical and psychological consequences of these norms on athletes’ long-term health. (Salazar has denied allegations of abuse and is serving a temporary suspension by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an independent nonprofit organization that investigates reports of abuse and misconduct in Olympic and Paralympic sports. Salazar is also serving a four-year ban for violating U.S. Anti-Doping Agency rules, which he is appealing.)

Cain says it took reading the 2019 U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report on Salazar—three years after she left the NOP—to understand her experience as abuse. “I suddenly realized, if I lived for the last three or four years unable to recognize abuse, there must be thousands of other young women out there who are experiencing the same blindness and, as a result, are unable to stand up for themselves,” she says. She wanted to show that someone “went through the scary and still came out of it.”

Cain’s story was pivotal. It helped reframe what many young female athletes feel is a personal shortcoming—that they aren’t cut out to run competitively—as a systemic and cultural problem instead. And it spurred a wider reckoning in the sport. Soon after the Times video was published, other athletes of all levels began to acknowledge living through similar experiences. Many came forward with their own stories on social media. They recounted situations in which body shaming, weigh-ins, bullying, and overtraining were normalized behind the scenes—practices that can be a pervasive part of the sport’s culture and often fall into a gray area where what’s acceptable is not always clear.

After watching Cain’s Times op-ed, Whetzel had a realization. “Mary’s experience was so similar to mine,” she says. “If she can say something, that it’s not OK, then that means what happened to me, to all of us, is also not OK.”
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We were featured in the news!
An article from The New York Times:
"I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike"
Written by Lindsay Crouse.
An excerpt from the article:

Mary Cain’s male coaches were convinced she had to get “thinner, and thinner, and thinner.” Then her body started breaking down...

...A big part of this problem is that women and girls are being forced to meet athletic standards that are based on how men and boys develop. If you try to make a girl fit a boy’s development timeline, her body is at risk of breaking down. That is what happened to Cain.

After months of dieting and frustration, Cain found herself choosing between training with the best team in the world, or potentially developing osteoporosis or even infertility. She lost her period for three years and broke five bones. She went from being a once-in-a-generation Olympic hopeful to having suicidal thoughts.

“America loves a good child prodigy story, and business is ready and waiting to exploit that story, especially when it comes to girls,” said Lauren Fleshman, who ran for Nike until 2012. “When you have these kinds of good girls, girls who are good at following directions to the point of excelling, you’ll find a system that’s happy to take them. And it’s rife with abuse.”

We don’t typically hear from the casualties of these systems — the girls who tried to make their way in this system until their bodies broke down and they left the sport. It’s easier to focus on bright new stars, while forgetting about those who faded away. We fetishize the rising athletes, but we don’t protect them. And if they fail to pull off what we expect them to, we abandon them.

Mary Cain is 23, and her story certainly isn’t over. By speaking out, she’s making sure of that.
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We were featured in the news!
A Podcast from More Than Running:
"Episode 5 | Mary Cain, NYC Manager and Runner for Tracksmith"
With podcast host Dana Giordano.
Episode Description:

I don’t really feel that I need to disprove the idea of burnout. But to me, it’s all a mental thing. The only reason you really walk away is because 1) You just come to hate it and you never really want to do it again or 2) You never come to terms with the fact that you might have to do it differently to get back there. As young women, you wake up, you drink a glass of water, you put your shoes on and you’re out the door. The older you get, maybe you need to stretch a little bit beforehand or do so some extra drills. It’s kind of understanding that’s OK and that your body is going to grow, change and adapt.

The longer you’re in the sport, the more you’re going to create rhythms for yourself and knowing that being 24 is still young and there’s a lot of life as a runner and otherwise to live.” Mary Cain joins Dana Giordano for a conversation just days after she announced that she is now a full-time employee of Tracksmith and will help oversee the company's New York City community engagement as a manager. Cain made headlines last fall when she came forward with allegations that she was "emotionally and physically abused" by coach Alberto Salazar as a member of the Nike Oregon Project. She has become one of the running's biggest advocates for women's sports and safe coaching practices as a result of sharing her story. Mary is still training at a professional level and is targeting the 2021 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in the 1,500 meters, 800 meters or 5,000 meters. In this conversation, Dana and Mary discuss how Mary overcame her longest injury cycle, her drive growing up, tapering intensity, balancing the concept of burnout, how the New York Times op-doc came about and much more.
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