Raven Saunders looks ahead: Mental health, magazine covers and the Paris Olympics | News

After watching Raven Saunders celebrate her silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics, Snoop Dogg was impressed.

“A real one,” Snoop said on his Olympic highlight show with Kevin Hart. “They finally let a real one win.”

It wasn’t only the famed rapper who was impressed with the way Saunders’ story unfolded during the Olympic Games.

Her story arc — speaking out about her struggles with mental health before winning silver in the women’s shot put, making a gesture of support for oppressed people on the medal stand that drew the attention of the International Olympic Committee, then dealing with the death of her mother just two days later — caught the attention of people around the world.

According to reports, the Burke High School graduate generated 1.3 billion impressions on social media on Aug. 1-2 as photos and video of her medal-stand demonstration went viral. She’s been written about in major newspapers and magazines across the globe.

And if there was any doubt about her new celebrity status, there was the blessing of Snoop Dogg.

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Burke High School graduate Raven Saunders crosses her arms on the medal stand after winning the silver in women’s shot put at the Summer Olympics. File/Francisco Seco/AP

“You are a true leader and I love what you stand for and how you get down,” Snoop told Raven during an interview. “I’m a real fan of you, both on and off the track.”

‘Woke up from a dream’

As she faces the emotional aftermath of the Olympics and her mother’s death, and a measure of newfound fame, Saunders is determined to remain true to herself.

“I don’t want to try and be one of those people that changed completely who I am,” she said. “I want to stay true to everything. And that’s why I think everything that has happened feels normal for me.

“I’ve been dreaming about this so much, and it’s like I woke up from the dream and everything is still there.”

Tokyo Olympics Athletics

Raven Saunders reacts during the women’s shot put final at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Aug. 1 in Tokyo. File/Martin Meissner/AP

Helping her stay grounded is her younger sister, Tanzania. The 18-year-old, also a shot-putter, just graduated from West Ashley High School and will be attending the University of West Alabama, where Raven works as an assistant track and field coach. Raven helped move her sister into college last weekend, just a couple of days after the funeral for their mother, Clarissa.

“That was kind of nice for us,” said Raven, who is 25. “It’s funny, because I’ve had to take on that motherly role sooner than I expected. But I feel like it’s a nice learning experience.

“She’s my sister, my blood and family. We’re going to fight and argue, especially with being a coach and a big sister. But being with her at a place she wants to go, she can look up to me and I can look after her.”

Charleston Olympian Raven Saunders returns home, with her mother and a medal

But the loss of Clarissa, who was just 50 when she died, will not be easy to overcome.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Raven said. “For any of us, your mom is the person you came from. So it’s tough, especially in the beginning.

“But for me, I know how happy she was, especially in this moment with the success I’ve had. She was always worried about me, and I think she would want me to keep pushing the message about staying mentally strong.”

Raven rocks the silver: Charleston's Saunders is an Olympic medal winner

Taking the stage

Raven Saunders will be doing more than coaching track and taking care of her sister. 

She has some speaking engagements and a couple of photo shoots for magazine covers coming up, as well as a meeting with officials from the NAACP. Her willingness to speak about her own struggles with mental health, and her status as a proud gay woman, will probably find her in demand. And, in a much better position than during her depression after the 2016 Olympics, which led to a brush with suicide.

Saunders’ agent, John Nubian, said she will have plenty of opportunity to share her message.

“I feel like I tried to stay humble and speak my truth,” Saunders said. “I really kind of opened myself up to people, and that really helped me a lot. And then being able to see the fruits of our labor, with the support of others, it’s just nice.

“I really feel like in the next couple of years, I’ll be in a much better position. I’m older now and understand more, and now I have family to take care of. It makes you sit down and get things done.”

Saunders’ gesture from the medal podium — she raised her arms to form an X over her head after the ceremony, to represent the “intersection of oppressed people” — drew support from many, including the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and women’s sports pioneer Billie Jean King. The demonstration also drew some critics and a probe from the IOC, suspended after Clarissa Saunders’ death. 

“My mom always said when I was growing up, ‘If people aren’t talking bad about you, then you aren’t doing something right,'” Raven said. “When you are trying to stand up for something, there’s going to be backlash.

“But I’m so thankful to be surrounded by so much support. With the IOC or whoever else, my mission hasn’t changed. It’s to inspire, create awareness and change, and nothing is going to get in the way of that.”

Raven Saunders: 'It was my duty' to protest on Olympic medal podium

Paris and beyond

And then there’s the Paris Olympics, just three years away in 2024. Raven will be 28 years old, and there’s still a gold medal to try to win.

When Snoop Dogg asked her about the future, she also mentioned the 2028 and 2032 Olympics. The World Championships are set for next July in Eugene, Ore., and the World Indoor Championships for next March in Belgrade.

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Olympian silver medal winner and Charleston native Raven Saunders holds up her silver medal with Hulk gloves while returning to the Lowcountry on Saturday, August, 7, 2021, at the Charleston International Airport in North Charleston. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Gong Lijiao of China, who won the gold medal in Tokyo, is 32. Michelle Carter of the U.S. won Olympic gold in 2016 at the age of 33. 

“I feel like, in the shot put, one thing that really plays in our favor is longevity,” she said. “With me being only 25, I feel like there’s anywhere between 11 and 15 more years out there for me, and I want to make the most of them.”

'My guardian angel': Mother of Olympic medalist Raven Saunders dies

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