Gatorade National Track Athlete of the Year Raven Saunders placed first in shot-put at the USATF Junior Outdoor National Championships last weekend in Eugene, Oregon. SUSAN GOLDMAN
Raven Saunders has a motto: “Just give me one shot.”
The 18-year-old shot-put phenom knows great opportunities don’t come around every day. She almost wasn’t in Eugene, Oregon last weekend for the USA Track and Field (USATF) Junior Outdoor National Championships. So with the spotlight on against the nation’s best young athletes, she made sure to make it count.
Saunders won the women’s shot-put with a throw of 55 feet, 10 ¼ inches, the third-farthest throw by any high school athlete ever. Truly in a class by herself, Saunders now owns the top-three all-time best marks.
Even her fifth attempt of 54 feet, 9 ¼ inches was more than a foot better than any other six attempts from the 15 competitors. Her top performance qualifies her for a shot to compete against the world’s best with Team USA in the World Junior Championships, beginning July 22 in Eugene.
“I knew what I had to do there,” Saunders said. “Being able to do what I’ve been working so hard toward really meant a lot.”
Saunders admits she wouldn’t have been able to even make it to Eugene without the help and support of her community. In May when she was raising money for her trip, local fans, friends, organizations and schools stepped in to help. Bishop England donated nearly $1,500 in a week. More than $6,600 rolled in over two months.
She says the outpouring of support has been humbling and has given her new motivation every time she steps in the ring to compete.
“I feel like a different shot-putter when I get in the circle,” Saunders said. “It was way different (in Oregon). It felt really good.”
Before the world championships, Saunders will fly to Los Angeles July 15 for the 12th annual Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year ceremony. Already the Gatorade National Female Track Athlete of the Year, she’s one of six female athletes up for Gatorade National Player of the Year honors. She’ll also walk the red carpet at the Nokia Theatre with the world’s best athletes for the ESPN ESPY Awards July 16.
“Sports have allowed for me to see different parts of the country that I may never have had the opportunity to visit,” she said. “If not for track and field, I think that all the places I’ve visited this one year would’ve taken a whole lifetime of traveling.”
Saunders is still adjusting to the newfound fame and attention. She says the past few months have been fun, but her focus is set on proving she’s worth her shot at the world championships in a couple weeks.
“My plan is really to just give every ounce of me that I have,” she said. “Make the best out of every shot. I’m leaving my whole season in that ring.”