Mary Cain’s mother explains the toll Nike’s running program took on her daughter

Dr. Jen Ashton helps explain the risks facing professional runners like Mary Cain.
4:27 | 11/09/19

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Transcript for Mary Cain’s mother explains the toll Nike’s running program took on her daughter
story. It's a story that rocked the sports world. Runner Mary Cain has come forward accusing Nike's elite running program of emotional and physical damage. Her mother now speaking out about the toll it took on her daughter. Mary Cain. There are women here almost twice her age being left in her wake. Reporter: She shot to fame at 17, a teen prodigy athlete joining Nike's Oregon project, an elite running program under the direction of coach Alberto Salazar. Now 23, Mary Cain is speaking out alleging years of emotional and physical abuse under a system she says was designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike. Cain alleging she was told to lose weight and publicly shamed when she didn't. I was weighed in front of teammates. I was told during practices that I was clearly five pounds too heavy. It was public knowledge within the program within the team that I was really struggling with this. Reporter: Mary's mother says she first suspected a problem after her daughter won a gold medal at the 2014 world junior championships but was told she wasn't ready to run her next race. And I said, okay, well, she's like, they don't think I'm in shape. They think I'm out of shape. I'm like, you just won junior worlds. It was such an exciting race. I don't get that. You know? Reporter: Mary says she soon turned to self-harm. Had suicidal thoughts and suffered broken bones related to her declining health. Slowly she started talking about how Alberto and the assistant coach and the sports psych were on her constantly about her weight, and my husband and I, especially my husband kept repeatedly emailing them, texting them. We hear you're talking to Mary about her weight. Stop it. We were hitting a wall of silence. Reporter: But in a statement to "The oregonian," Salazar denies the allegation saying neither of her parents nor Mary raised any of the issues that she now suggests occurred. I never encouraged her or worse yet shamed her to maintain an unhealthy weight. Nike telling ABC news, these are deeply troubling allegations which have not been raised by Mary or her parents before. We take the allegations extremely seriously and will launch an immediate investigation. Lots to talk about here clearly. Dr. Jen is back. Dr. Jen Ashton, good morning once again. Good morning. What are the physical consequences of being underweight especially among athletes? I want to be clear. Being underweight can be just as unhealthy as being overweight but when you talk about an elite athlete or any athlete, what we worry about is the athletic triad for women who lose too much weight. Their body weight becomes too low and can affect their bones and menstrual cycles then there are other risks for male or female athletes. This kind of low body weight can predispose them to increase in injuries, electrolyte abnormalities and severe cases and to be clear, poor athletic performance, it's not just unhealthy but can't deliver and execute their sport well if they're not healthy. What about the psychological effects because -- and what symptoms can parents look for as far as low self-esteem body issues and not just for athletes but kids in general. I have a degree also in nutrition. My daughter is an elite athlete so this hits close to home for me. I think we need to remember the body in many cases does follow the mind so you have to work on that mind/body connection but I think you need to understand there are some signs, a preoccupation with food or eating behaviors or exercise, wearing loose or baggy clothing, again, this is for an athlete or a nonathlete and then feelings of psychological distress, social isolation, depression, labile emotions, that is a sign that the individual, again, athlete or nonathlete, is in jeopardy, and I think we need to also understand that the coaches here, they are experts in their sport. They are not physicians. They are not nutritionists. They're not psychologists and so when you need to go outside that range of expertise, be persistent if you're a parent. If you think your child at any age is struggling, get them help. And real quick as a takeaway, what can parents and coaches do to help foster healthy eating and exercise habits? Understand this is about mind, body and need to be strong and healthy. Not just about the number on the

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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