NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Olympian Raven Saunders returned home to Charleston on Saturday after earning a silver medal in Tokyo.
Saunders, along with her sister Tanzania, flew into Charleston International Airport with the body of their mother, Clarissa Saunders.
Clarissa passed away while in Orlando, Fla, just days after watching her daughter win a silver medal in women’s shot put at the Tokyo Olympics. She had been in Orlando for a watch party.
Family, friends, and fans waited for her arrival at the airport, cheering and holding signs as their hometown hero walked through security gates Saturday afternoon.
She thanked her supporters for showing up saying, “one of my biggest things my whole entire journey is making sure that I showed out for my city,” said Saunders. “I feel like so many places all around this country have great people who always mention where they come from – well, I’m from Charleston, South Carolina. Geechee until the day I die.”
But the moment was bittersweet, recalling a moment in 2016 when her mother and younger sister were both waiting for her return from the Rio Olympics. “My mom is here, but she’s not here. I’m happy, though, to have been the person to bring her home,” she said.
Saunders earned the silver medal after competing in the Women’s 100-meter shot put where she threw an impressive 19.79 M in the final throw during the track and field portion of the Summer Games.
She said her mother, Clarissa, loved how proud the Olympian was to be from Charleston. “She loved how I was able to turn a lot of things around in life and accomplish these things. I really want to keep inspiring and motivating people … I feel like this is another sign from God for me to keep pushing my mental health, to keep preaching about mental health,” she said.
Saunders has been very outspoken on mental health and depression. Following her silver medal win, Saunders stepped off the podium, lifted her arms above her head, and formed an “X’ with her wrists, which she said represented “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”
She believes there is no way she would be “taken to such a high and then dropped to such a low not to make it count for something” and encouraged everyone to check on their loved ones – mentally and physically – and reminded those who may be suffering from mental health issues that sometimes in life things are “going to hurt and be very painful, no matter how you look at it … but understand that you are strong enough and worthy enough to accept those challenges and make it through.”
Saunders said she received many pictures and videos of her mother, Clarissa, smiling “bigger than I’ve ever seen on her face” after watching her daughter compete in the Tokyo Olympics. She is using those moments as comfort as she navigates a new life without her mother.
“She’s able to literally watch over the family like never before,” said Saunders.
Her sister, Tanzania, recently graduated from West Ashley High School and will attend college in Alabama, where Raven is a coach.