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August 2, 2021

With Or Without The Mask, Raven Saunders Is Always Herself

Raven Saunders can have two different personalities and a seven-foot shot put ring determines which personality she will display on any given day.

Saunders takes on the personality of a popular Marvel superhero when she walks in the shot put ring – The Incredible Hulk.

She says she relates to the Hulk when it comes to competition because the Hulk operates with reckless abandonment when he needs to go into full form and if there was a mission that needed to get done, he did whatever it took to complete it. That’s how she sees herself as a competitor.

Saunders proved this statement to be true in the women’s shot put finals at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Saunders walked into Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium for the finals of the women’s shot put finals, pulled up her Hulk mask over her nose and unleashed a thunderous wave of throws to earn a silver medal.

“I’m very intense,” she says. “I don’t play around. I have few friends, if any, when I’m competing. I’m just going after it completely, 120% the whole entire time from start to finish.”

Off the track, Saunders describes herself as a funny, loving and dedicated person. She loves yoga, meditation, and when it comes to playing video games, she’s no slouch. Her favorite teams to play with on her console are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Boston Celtics, which happen to be her favorite teams in real life. Her go-to plate of food resembles her South Carolina roots with red rice, her Auntie’s fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and greens.

While the personalities may vary when she competes against when she doesn’t, her ultimate mission is the same, and that is to motivate and push others to be the best version of themselves, while destigmatizing mental health.

The 25-year-old and two-time Olympian found herself in a low place during the start of her senior year at Ole Miss.

Saunders transferred to Ole Miss from Southern Illinois in 2015. Saunders arrived on campus at a time when students were debating getting a confederate statue removed from campus. Saunders remembers scrolling through an app that allowed for anonymous gossip and racism was prevalent on it.

“I internalized a lot of it,” she says. “And, you know, I really started to disassociate myself, because, in a way, a large portion of me didn’t really feel accepted outside of my athletic ability.”

Her disassociation caused her to develop resentment as she tried to find her footing.

“It created a lot of resentment in me earlier on”, she said. “Especially, just trying to navigate that and navigate myself as a young black LBGTQ woman in America trying to figure myself out – but also having all of these obligations and, you know, image to uphold and standards that they want me to keep in, you know, you have to be this place in that place at the same time.”

“But thankfully, after my mental breakdown, I was able to get all the help that I needed, so that I can learn how to be comfortable again, just being me.”

The mental breakdown happened in 2018 during her senior year. Contemplating taking her own life, she reached out to her former therapist who she grew close to at Ole Miss who responded to her text message and led toward the help and support that she needed. Saunders has been open about her journey, especially since she feels that it’s not a topic that is widely talked about in the Black community.

“It’s one of those things when especially I find that in the black community on when it comes to mental health and you know, suicide, it’s one of those things that we necessarily don’t talk about openly enough,” she said.

raven saunders olympic silver medalist

Saunders felt mixed emotions on whether she should share her story or not. She decided to do it so others wouldn’t feel alone.

“I find that especially, you know, being in the generation I am in now, we constantly talk about breaking generational curses and trying to do better for the next – not constantly keep going through the same things that we’ve gone through over and over again,” she said. “I find that by opening up these conversations, and destigmatizing mental health and working with schools and with people trying to get people to understand that though you may not go through it, you still need to reach out to the people that are close to you.”

Saunders tries to educate and encourage those that she comes across in any way that she can. She participated in a mental health series called “Out of the Dark” that aired on PBS. She often times challenges the athletes that she coaches part-time at the University of West Alabama to think outside the box and to challenge themselves mentally.

She’s thankful for the support that she’s gotten along her journey, including the new friends that she made after tweeting out about the perception of how much she makes, compared to what was in her bank account.

After tweeting out screenshots of the article stating how much she’s worth and then what’s actually in her bank account, she tweeted out her Cash App and Venmo username when CITIUS MAG asked for it publicly. That’s when the donations started rolling in.

“It literally brought tears to my eyes because for me, I don’t ask for anything,” she said. “And I really posted the post as just something that kinda brings awareness to something that’s very prominent, especially in track and field.”

Saunders plans to send postcards to everyone who sent her money. The kindness that others showed not only warmed her heart but motivated her to continue to strive to make a difference, especially for those who are struggling.

“With where I’m at in life, I’m very fortunate,” she says. “I understand that. I may not be the richest person in the world. But I’ve learned to appreciate being in the moment, appreciating your situation, understanding and realizing where I’ve been, where I’m at and where I’m going.”

“I just want to be able to help so many people understand that situation may have been where you were, learn to appreciate where you’re at, to help you to get where you want to go in life.”

Graphics by Katherine Burgess – Follow her work on Instagram @katherine_kart

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