Sunday, May 11, 2014
Raven Saunders has a little extra motivation behind every rep and every toss now.
Every throw has a little something extra pushing it because these days the high school shot-put national record holder isn't just competing for herself. There's a community behind her. Teammates, competitors, schools, churches, friends, family; they've all shown tremendous support to help her chase her dreams.
Saunders has dominated her high school competition her senior year at Burke. She set the national high school indoor shot-put record at 56 feet, 7½ inches in March and then set the national high school outdoor record at 56 feet, 8¼ inches in April.
Her accomplishments earned her a scholarship to Southern Illinois, national acclaim and future Olympic mentions. She's become a favorite to win shot-put at July's USA Junior Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon ... if she can get there.
The estimated travel and expenses for the weekend trip are roughly $5,000, a price tag Saunders can't afford with her full training regiment. She started a fundraiser through gofundme.com, a popular online fundraising site and raised a couple hundred dollars in the first few days. But the donations quickly stalled.
“After the first couple days, the count just stood there and I was fairly nervous about it,” Saunders said. “I knew somehow, someway, this had to work. I just kept praying and tried to stay confident.”
Soon, her church donated $250 dollars along with an anonymous $250 donation the same day. Progress picked up, but after 20 days, Saunders was still nearly $4,000 short of her goal. Then came the Bishops.
Bishop England track coach Tony Colizzi knew Saunders years before she was a national record setter. He's watched and admired as she's dominated competition but stayed humble enough to still help other athletes set up before track meets. When he heard her situation, he immediately wanted to help.
“It's not too hard to support her,” Colizzi said. “She's just a great kid. She's friends with our kids. She'll help anyone any way she can. She sets a great example.”
Colizzi rallied the Bishop England track families and within three days received $1,000. Two days later, another $300 rolled in.
“I was shocked, but at the same time, I wasn't because everyone at Bishop England has such big hearts,” Saunders said. “They've always been really supportive and very nice to me. It was such a good feeling and I'm just very thankful for them.”
In less than a week since the Bishops' donation, nearly $2,000 more has been donated from schools, friends, families and fans willing to help. Saunders is less than $1,000 from reaching her goal and is confidently preparing herself to compete against the nation's best in the USA Junior Track and Field Championships.
If she qualifies there, she'll return later at the end of the month for the World Junior Championships, comparable to the Olympic games for athletes under 20 years old. Her outdoor record from April would have beaten last year's USA Track and Field junior shot-put champion by more than three feet.
With the South Carolina High School League Class AA state championships a week away, Saunders is training six days a week. She used to be motivated by her love of competition, but now says she's driven by the generosity and support she's received the past month.
“When I'm tired or don't feel like practicing, I have that little extra to keep pushing,” she said. “This means more than I can even explain. Right now, I'm listed as one of the top athletes in the country, but I want to put a stamp on it and compete with the top in the world. Not only for me, but for the people in my area and the people who have been supporting me. I want everyone to be able to feel proud.”
To help, visit Saunder's fundraiser site: Help Raven Saunders Compete
Frankie Mansfield, the sports reporter for the Moultrie News can be seen all around the state following teams to meets, games, and matches. For score updates, breaking sports news, and more, follow @fjmansfield on Twitter and like Moultrie News Sports on Facebook.