Out-And-Proud Raven 'Hulk' Saunders Takes Silver In Women's Shot Put : Live Updates: The Tokyo Olympics Saunders said she's been open about her mental health struggles so others don't feel alone. It's also why she wears her identities so proudly as a gay Black woman.

Out-And-Proud Raven 'Hulk' Saunders Takes Silver In Women's Shot Put

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KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

U.S. shot putter Raven Saunders became the first Olympic athlete to defy protest rules on the podium when she collected her silver medal. Saunders is an outspoken Black gay woman and a fierce advocate. She's taken the social media world by storm with her colorful outfits and infectious personality. NPR's Leila Fadel reports her win delighted her virtual fans.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: When the medal was hers, Saunders mimed a hair flip, twerked, and then vogued with the American flag for the cameras. That twerk, that flip immediately became a meme. Fan videos spread on social media set to tunes like Queen Latifah's "Ladies First."

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QUEEN LATIFAH: (Singing) Oh, ladies first. Ladies first. Oh, ladies first. Ladies first.

FADEL: Saunders' larger-than-life personality has captured the world's attention. She calls herself Hulk, her alter ego that smashes on the field. And on Sunday, in all shades of green, from her Air Jordan 13s, to her hair, to her signature Hulk mask, she did. She hurled the weighted metal ball nearly 65 feet, securing just the third Olympic medal ever for the U.S. in the women's event.

RAVEN SAUNDERS: For me, it means a lot to be able to walk away with the silver medal because I do represent so many people. And I know that there are so many people that have been looking up to me, so many people that have messaged me, so many people that have been praying for me. And I just am happy that, you know, I get to bring this back for them, not just myself.

FADEL: She's out and proud and unapologetically herself. She has a penchant for tattoos, dramatic hairstyles and statement shades. It's who she is, and she wants to show the younger generation that's OK.

SAUNDERS: No matter what it is that people tell you, like, no matter how many boxes they try to fit you in, you know, be it your coaches or whoever the case may be, you can be you, and people will accept it. You know, people told me not to do, you know, tattoos and piercings and all of this stuff, but now look at me. I'm popular.

FADEL: To all those who see themselves in her, she says...

SAUNDERS: Keep fighting. Keep pushing.

FADEL: It was a long road for Saunders to get to Tokyo. After her Olympic debut in 2016, she was welcomed home to Charleston, S.C., with a marching band.

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FADEL: She was and is a hometown hero. But as the fanfare died down, depression took hold. Here she is in a PBS documentary.

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SAUNDERS: It was like the weight of the world was resting on my chest, and there was nothing that I could do about it.

FADEL: She stopped caring, lost passion for her sport and contemplated driving off a cliff. In a desperate moment, she reached out to a therapist who promised help. And she got that help. She checked into a hospital and became public about her struggle so others don't feel alone. After her medal on Sunday, she shared what she learned.

SAUNDERS: Find value in yourself. Find value in, you know, everything you do. Find a reason.

FADEL: Among Saunders' reasons is advocating for the many communities she represents. She's one of a record-breaking 179 athletes competing at the Olympics this year that are openly part of the LGBTQ community, according to Outsports. And she's one of many speaking up about the pressure, stress and anxiety that come with competing at an elite level. Her alter ego, Hulk, is how she harnesses the explosion of emotion she draws on to volley the shot in the air, but she says she had to figure out how to turn the Hulk off.

SAUNDERS: When I initially became the Hulk, I didn't know how to differentiate the Hulk from Raven. I learned how to control the Hulk and, you know, use the Hulk in the right way, to save that for, you know, meet competitions and things like that so that, you know, Raven could, you know, have her fun and be able to deal with things the right way - reach out to people, you know, seek therapy, do yoga, meditate.

FADEL: She learned her value outside of her sport and the reach of her platform. On the podium, she briefly crossed your arms in an X and later said it's the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Tokyo.

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