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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Raven Saunders: From thoughts of suicide to winning silver at Tokyo Olympics

Raven Saunders, who won silver in the women's shot put with a throw of 19.79 metres, has been one of the highlights of the Tokyo Olympics with her unique style and humour.

Written by Sriram Veera |
Updated: August 1, 2021 2:11:14 pm
Raven Saunders, of United States, reacts during the women's shot put final at the Tokyo Olympics. (AP)

Green and purple hair, a grinning Joker mask, and loads of pluck and humor, the American shotputter Raven Saunders has been a viral sensation this Olympics. She wanted her fans to wear green in honour of her “Hulk” alter-ego. On her Twitter bio, #BlackGirlMagic and pride rainbows stand out.

“Seven out of 10,” was Saunders’s verdict of the Olympic breakfast. Apparently the eggs were a bit powdery and sausage is just ‘aight”.

It wasn’t all ‘aight’ when she was driving her car one January morning in 2018. She had finished fifth in Rio and so proud were the residents of her town Charlestown that the mayor had declared August 17 2016 as Raven Saunders day and threw in a welcome parade. But lights had subsequently gone out from her life.

The money was tight, school life wasn’t easy, injuries were piling up, and performances were going awry.

“I was young, I was black and I was gay. Just moved to Mississippi,” Saunders told WMC Action News. “There was a lot of stigma and things like that around certain stuff. I really felt like there was no outlet for me. Track was like an outlet, but it was only so much. Especially mentally when you’re going home and having to deal with it. It started weighing on me a lot that year.”

That January morning she was supposed to drive to get campus.

“I knew I had to be somewhere, but I just rolled past campus and kept driving and driving,” she told The Post and Courier. “I was in a daze, and I could tell something was very off. I just felt like I was in over my head. I was probably about 10 or 15 minutes from trying to end my life.”

Raven Saunders celebrates after winning a silver medal in the women’s shot put. (Reuters)

In her bleakest moment, she thought about her therapist and texted. Saunders hadn’t been in touch with the therapist for six months as she had been promoted and was no longer her therapist. But she listened to her impulse and messaged.

“I wanted to let somebody know what was going on, so I texted her that I was afraid and that I didn’t know what I was going to do to myself,” Saunders said.

That text saved her life and the therapist coaxed her to check into a mental health facility. A month later, she quit her school. Her mother and coach didn’t know her traumas. She didn’t compete much in 2019 but has been at it from 2020.

“As I was going through it, I didn’t want to feel like a bother to the people that I love. You know people are going through their own things, and you feel like a burden,” she told Post & Courier. “You don’t want to put your things on other people. I tried to get through it and handle it on my own, and you think it’s not that bad until it is that bad.”

She was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

“I do a lot of meditation and things like that,” she said. “And being out here at the training center, I’m around really positive people. We’ve got Olympians, gold medalists and athletes like that. And with my closest friends, I’m trying to be more vocal about what I’m going through, asking them to check up on me and just trying to be more open about what I’m struggling with.”

Proud member of LGBTQ

She first came out to her mother in third grade. She told Outsports.com that In sixth grade she was outed to classmates who “had found a note book of love songs I remixed about this one girl I had a crush on.”

She retweets about LGBTQ issues, talks openly about mental health.

“Because this is why I do this. Because there’s so many people who aren’t even athletes who are affected by it, more than we know,” she told WMC. “I remember seeing the tears on my mom’s face when she came and saw me after she found out what was going to happen and just the amount of love, and support, and things like that that. And my goal is just to save as many lives as possible.”

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