Raven “Hulk” Saunders, a two-time Olympian and vocal advocate for mental health, has accepted an 18-month suspension from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for failing to follow an administrative policy regarding updating her whereabouts. The backdated suspension will be effective from August 2022 until mid-February 2024.
Saunders, who won silver at the Tokyo Olympics, has accepted full responsibility for her failure to update her whereabouts according to the proscribed procedure on multiple occasions. She will use the time during her suspension to focus on her mental health and intensify her training to prepare for the Paris Games.
The announcement of her suspension comes as a surprise to many, as Saunders has been a role model and leader in the sports world, particularly for her advocacy for mental health. Following her outstanding performance in Tokyo, Saunders celebrated her silver medal win with her mother by phone and video chat before heading home to the States. However, she had no idea that her mother would suffer a fatal health incident while attending an official Olympics watch party in Orlando after celebrating with her daughter.
Combined with recovery from a second major hip surgery in the fall of 2021 which affected her performance at the USA Team qualifier in 2022, and handling the estate of her mother and newfound responsibility for her sibling, Saunders came under a veritable mountain of additional life pressure alongside the pressures of being an elite athlete.
Despite this tragic loss, Saunders remains committed to her athletic career and using her platform to raise awareness for mental health issues. She has expressed regret for failing to comply with the USADA policy and acknowledges the importance of upholding the integrity of sports and anti-doping efforts. Saunders has never tested positive for any banned substances or performance-enhancing drugs.
Saunders has been a force to be reckoned with in the sports world, and her continued dedication to her craft and advocacy for mental health and those with no voice has inspired many. While her suspension is a setback, she remains determined to use this time to strengthen herself mentally and physically and return stronger than ever for the Paris Games.
Featured Image: U.S. shot putter Raven Saunders (Photo Credit ©Zaid Hamid Photography 2021 (courtesy of Leidos)