Raven Saunders and shot put coach bring intense, yet positive approach to Olympic training

Updated: Jul. 27, 2021 at 5:00 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As she stepped into the shot put ring, Raven Saunders told herself, “One move, make it work, make it count.”

She’s used to turning heads when she competes. The two-time Olympian, three-time SEC Champion and four-time NCAA Champion isn’t shy about self-motivation. Something she learned the hard way, after a dark period a few years back.

“I was young, I was black and I was gay. Just moved to Mississippi, There was a lot of stigma and things like that around certain stuff,” Saunders said. “I really felt like there was no outlet for me. Track was like an outlet, but it was only so much. Over time, especially having dealt with that for so long and not having a name for it or addressing it, finding healthier outlets to work on that. It got to me. In that beginning of 2018 of what was my senior year. Yeah, I was ready to take my life.”

Raven sought the help she needed and has since changed her approach to life, and her sport.

“I’m more positive in how I talk to myself. I don’t beat myself down constantly in training. In a sense of thinking that certain things that I say to myself is what’s going to get it out of me. Instead of hyping myself up, and saying hey, you’re this person, do it because of who you are and what you know you can do versus hey you suck.”

It also took the right coach to bring the best out of Saunders. She linked up with Alabama Track and Field throws coach Derek Yush.

“I just give her a lot of credit. There’s a lot of people, one of those things would derail them and she’s had a ton of them and she just keeps persevering,” Yush said.

According to Yush, he hasn’t seen

In more than 20 years of coaching...Derek Yush says Raven is unlike any other athlete he’s worked with.

“I just think she’s bulletproof. She believes she’s going to get it done. Basically in Track and Field you need three things to be on the award stand. One of them is some kind of innate, biological or God-given ability, no matter how you want to say that. Just a killer work ethic and the ability to compete and she has the ability to compete. There’s so many people out there that have two out of the three that can get there,” he said. “But, that killer instinct thing that she brings to practice, is the same thing that she brings to the meet except at a much higher level and there’s not a lot of people who have that. I don’t think that she feels like she can be beat, you know. And I think that gives her a great advantage over some of the other people that are second-guessing themselves.”

Though Raven finished the 2016 Rio Games with a medal, this time around she’s focused on the champion within.

“Four years ago, a medal would mean everything. It still means everything. I’ve learned now, if you talk to me at the track and you’re sitting here talking to Raven, it’s two totally different things. The track me would be like, man, I need it. I have to have it. There’s nothing more than I do want. Four years ago even inside and outside, I would need that medal. If I was still in that same place right now, I would need it, like have to have it,” Saunders said. “Where I’m at right now, with or without it, I’m going to be good. I’m going to be fine, I’m going to be happy, I’m going to be smiling, I’m going to be dancing. I don’t care what happens in Tokyo, especially because we don’t have fans. I’m going to put on a show.”

Saunders will compete in the women’s shot put beginning Friday, July 30th at 5:25 AM.

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