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 they represent, could very well be found in a 25-year-old American shot putter who on Sunday could be seen wearing the green superhero face cover and red, sporting purple and green hair, donning shades of neon blue and winning a shiny silver medal.
In the photoshoot at her medal ceremony on Sunday night, Saunders stepped off the podium, raised her arms above her head and formed an “X” with her wrists. When asked what this meant, she explained, “This is the intersection where all the oppressed people meet. “
A significant move for Saunders, who is openly gay, considered suicide, saw poverty and depression ravage her black community and others like her. She has often wondered if the Olympics, which make a point of celebrating diversity but often struggle to live up to that mission, had a place for someone like her.
She decided to claim her place anyway. And in a space where Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and other better-known Olympians have spoken their truth, Saunders is more than willing to share hers, too.
“To be me. So as not to apologize,” she said in a high-profile conversation after second place, when asked what her ultimate mission was. “To show the youngest that it doesn’t matter. the number of boxes they’re trying to put you in, you can be you and you can accept it. People tried to tell me not to get tattoos and piercings and all that. But look at me now , and I jump.
The Hulk mask Saunders started wearing not so long ago has its roots in a lot of things. Namely, it’s a reminder that a woman who leaned on a 480-pound bench and squatted 700 pounds and won four NCAA titles is bound to look tough on the outside, but could be very different on the outside. interior.
Even though she had previously competed in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and was in the midst of a career on an upward path, Saunders said in an Instagram post that on January 26, 2018, she was about to “wear (out) an attempt to end my life.
“If it hadn’t been for a text message to a former therapist, I wouldn’t be here (right now),” she said. “All these things that have weighed on me for 22 years, I was finally able to deal with them. I was finally able to separate Raven from “The Hulk”.
Saunders is one of some 180 LGBTQ athletes competing at the Tokyo Olympics, according to Outsports website, who estimates that this is more than triple the number of participants in Brazil five years ago.
She recently told the website that she spoke to her mother in third grade. She was introduced to classmates in sixth grade, and by ninth grade she finally started to feel comfortable with who she was. By the time she got to college, Saunders was out.
It was never an easy road.
“I feel like the atmosphere around a lot of things, especially when you’re doing so well, is ‘Well you’ve got it all so you have nothing to worry about,’” Saunders said. “Whereas for me it was like a whirlwind.”
She used her platform Sunday to talk about mental health, particularly in the black community, where she has seen depression and other symptoms go untreated and ignored for years. “Madhouse” she said, some houses have been called in the black community where symptoms have been observed but not verified.
She said some of her friends and classmates these days are seeing therapists, which they wouldn’t have done a few years ago.
“It’s normal to need people, and I have the impression that in our community, often throughout history, we have not had access to the resources to be able to do so,” he said. she declared.
Among those Saunders has leaned on recently is Gwen Berry, the free hammer thrower she crossed paths with during her time at the University of Mississippi.
“Raven went through hell and came back,” Berry said after qualifying for the final in her own competition. “I’m so happy to see her thrive and win. I’ll tell you a little secret, about two months ago she called me on the phone crying. She’s been through a lot. So I’m happy for her.
All of these struggles are not as difficult today as they were five, three or even a year ago. Mental health has been the main topic of the Olympics, and with her place on the podium, Saunders seems more than ready to claim her claim at the heart of this conversation.
The more she is there, the more she discovers that she is not alone.
“I really think my generation doesn’t care,” Saunders said. “Shout out to all my black people, shout out to all my LBGTQ community, shout out to everyone dealing with mental health. Because at the end of the day, we understand it’s bigger than us, and it’s bigger than the powers that be.
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