The Hulk Returns — Raven Saunders Back Putting Far

The resurgent Saunders was a colorful performer at the LSU Invitational. (BRYAN WAYNE)

In early February, Raven Saunders’ collegiate career at Ole Miss came to a screaming halt. In a statement at the time, the 4-time NCAA champion referred to personal and medical issues bringing her to the decision.

On Twitter, she was more specific, saying, “I am using this time to focus on myself and getting back to full health. To my fellow athletes, you don’t always have to act like you have it all together. As a college student-athlete, times can get very hard. Take the time to focus on your mental health as you would the physical.”

Still training in Oxford with Bulldog coach John Smith, Saunders reemerged this spring in a big way. Her 64-2¼ (19.56) at the War Eagle Invitational at Auburn was a world leader and the second-best toss of her life. A week later, she went nearly as far, 64-¼ (19.51), to win at the LSU Invitational.

The Hulk has returned, putting up back-to-back 64-foot meets for the first time ever. And she’s thrilled about it, saying, “I’m just happy to be back training and competing again.”

In all, she missed 6–8 weeks of throwing, and about 2 weeks of lifting. But she’s not surprised that she came back on top: “The way that my practices were going, I knew I had a lot of potential.” It’s nice, she says, to be doing better than when she left off.

Even so, not being on the college team is hard. “Ole Miss holds a dear spot in my heart,” she admits. “It does kind of hurt a little bit when I see my teammates are competing, especially around conference and things that are starting to come up.

“Life sometimes has its own plan for you and you really can’t control that. You just have to live, learn and grow from it. Definitely am wishing my teammates all the best for the rest of their season.”

Saunders, who will turn 22 in mid-May, says that eventually she will probably talk publicly about the details of her situation. “But everything right now is just so fresh,” she explains. “I kind of want to keep it on more of a personal level, until I actually feel more comfortable opening up to more people about it.”

She adds, “I feel like in the future, my story can help a lot of student-athletes.”

For now, her focus is completely forward. As for her goals, she says, “I’m really just continuing on and hoping to finish out as the top thrower in the world. The way that my training and things have been going and mentally where I’m at… and the things that coach believes…

“Going forward into this season I really do believe that I could have the best track season of my career.”