TOKYO — Raven Saunders is about that “action” as she said moments after the Olympic final in the women’s shot put.
Outside of the ring, Saunders, 25, is a mental health and racial justice advocate and a vocal member of the community, with personal experiences in all three areas.
In January 2018, just a year-and-a-half after finishing fifth at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Saunders contemplated taking her own life. Thankfully, Saunders reached out to her therapist before she reached that point. Her therapist talked her out of suicide. Soon afterwards, Saunders checked into a mental health facility, where she started the journey of getting her life back in order.
Saunders says she has dealt with racism, racial inequality, inequity, sexism and homophobia and doesn’t shy away from speaking out to promote fairness and equality for all.
In the shot put circle, Saunders has a brand new title – Olympic silver medalist. Saunders tossed 64 feet, 11¼ inches to finish second in the women’s shot put on Sunday. China’s Lijiao Gong won the event with a personal-best throw of 67 feet, 6¼ inches and New Zealand’s Valerie Adams tossed 64 feet, 4½ inches to place third.
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Immediately after the competition was over, Saunders was dancing and visibly overjoyed. It was a moment that signified she persevered and overcame adversity.
“From 2016 and constantly fighting and constantly pushing through everything, I made sure I walked away with a medal,” Saunders said. “For me, everything that I been through, mental health-wise, injuries and financial. Really to invest everything that I have mentally and physically, being able to walk away with a medal and go out and inspire so many people.
“The LGBT community, people who have been dealing with mental health issues and so many people in the African American community, so many people who are Black all around the world, I just hope I can continue to inspire and motivate.”
Saunders won the silver medal while not quite being 100%. She’s been battling hip and leg injuries all season. The ailments even caused her to have another bout of depression. When she was having a depressive episode prior to U.S. Olympic trials, Saunders reached out to U.S. hammer thrower Gwen Berry. Berry was a volunteer coach at Ole Miss when Saunders was a student-athlete at the university. The two have since become good friends.
“I needed to reach out to somebody to get a boost,” Saunders explained. “It was nice to have somebody like her who I could reach out to.”
Berry, who is an outspoken advocate for racial justice and competing in the women’s hammer in Tokyo, provided Saunders with some perspective and gave her the support she needed.
“Just injuries. Injuries. Injuries always make an athlete second guess their capabilities, and it always brings them down because it’s an important year,” Berry said. “But she’s better, obviously.”
The U.S. shot putter proved she’s “obviously better” while competing in her second Olympics.
Saunders, the self-proclaimed Hulk, distinguished herself from her competitors by wearing sporting-themed masks this season. During Sunday’s final, she donned a mask of her favorite Marvel character, The Hulk.
“The Hulk is kind of a way for me to learn the differences. It’s kind of like an alter ego for me. For me earlier on, I had a tough time differentiating between the two. I had a tough time controlling when the Hulk came out and or when the Hulk didn’t come out,” Saunders explained. “But through my journey and especially with dealing with mental health, and things like that, I learned how to compartmentalize. The same when Bruce Banner learned how to control the Hulk. Learn how to let the Hulk come out during the right moments.”
The Hulk came out in the ring on Sunday and won an Olympic medal in what was the culmination of a journey that Saunders hopes will inspire others dealing with mental health issues.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Olympics: Raven Saunders let The Hulk out to win shot put silver