Saunders is the voice of the Olympics

TOKYO (AP) – The Incredible Hulk mask shouldn’t fool anyone. Raven Saunders has nothing to hide.

The face and voice of the Tokyo Olympics and all that it is about could very well be found in a 25-year-old American shot putter who was spotted on Sunday with the superhero green and red face covering, wearing the purple and green Hair, donned the neon blue hues and won a shiny silver medal.

During the photo opportunity at her awards ceremony on Sunday evening, Saunders stepped off the podium, raised her arms above her head and formed an “X” with her wrists. When asked what that meant, she said: “This is where all the people who are oppressed meet.”

A meaningful gesture for Saunders, who is openly gay, has contemplated suicide, and has seen poverty and depression ravage her black community and others like her. She has often wondered if the Olympics, which is very important to celebrate diversity but often struggles to live up to that mission, have a place for a person like her.

She made up her mind to claim her place one way or another. And in a room where Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, and other better-known Olympians have been telling their truth, Saunders is more than ready to share hers, too.

“To be me. In order not to apologize,” she said in a broad conversation after her second place when asked what her ultimate mission was. “To show younger people that no matter how many boxes they fit you into “Be yourself and accept it. People tried to tell me not to do tattoos and piercings and all that. But look at me now and I’ll burst.”

The Hulk mask that Saunders started wearing not long ago has its roots in many things. It’s a reminder that a woman who did 480 pounds of bench press and 700 pound squats and won four NCAA titles must look tough on the outside but could look very different on the inside.

Despite having already been to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and on her way up in the middle of a career, Saunders said in an Instagram post that on January 26, 2018, she was on her way to “wearing (out) one.” Try to end my life. “

“If I hadn’t texted an old therapist, I wouldn’t be here (right now),” she said. “I was finally able to process all of these things that had bothered me for 22 years. I was finally able to separate Raven from ‘The Hulk’. “

According to the Outsports website, Saunders is one of around 180 LGBTQ athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics.

She recently told the website that she came to see her mother in third grade. In sixth grade she was outed to her classmates, and in ninth grade she finally began to get used to who she was. When she got to college, Saunders was out.

It’s never been an easy path.

“I feel like the atmosphere about a lot of things, especially when you’re doing so well, is, ‘Well, you’ve got it all for you so you don’t have to worry about anything,'” Saunders said. “For me it was like a whirlwind.”

She used her platform on Sunday to talk about mental health, especially in the black community, where she saw depression and other symptoms go untreated and unspoken for years. “The crazy house,” she said, named a few houses in the black community where symptoms were seen but not checked.

She said some of her friends and classmates go to therapists these days where they would not have done a few years ago.

“It’s okay to need people, and I feel like we in our community have not had access to the resources to do this many times throughout history,” she said.

Among those Saunders has been relying on lately is Gwen Berry, the outspoken hammer thrower she crossed paths with during her time at the University of Mississippi.

“Raven has gone through hell and back,” said Berry after making the finals in her own competition. “I’m so happy to see it bloom and win. I’ll tell you a little secret, about two months ago she called me crying. She’s been through a lot. So I’m happy for her. “

All of these struggles are not nearly as tense today as they were five or three, or even a year ago. Mental health was the main topic of the Olympics and, along with her place on the podium, Saunders seems more than ready to put her claim at the center of this conversation.

The more she is out there, the more she realizes that she is not alone.

“I really think my generation really doesn’t care,” Saunders said. “Call all of my blacks, call my LBGTQ community, call everyone who is mental health. Because at the end of the day we understand that it is bigger than us and bigger than the mighty. “

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