Standing on the rostrum in Tokyo with an Olympic silver medal around her neck, Raven Saunders wished to make a robust assertion.
She knew who she wished to talk up for, discussing it with these closest to her – however wasn’t positive how. So she needed to assume rapidly.
“It was within the second I made a decision,” the shot putter, 25, tells BBC Sport from her house in the US.
“We had already talked about what our demonstration was going to be, and I felt prefer it fitted completely.”
Saunders crossed her arms above her head, creating an X image that was seen around the globe.
“It is the intersection the place all oppressed communities meet,” she says.
“Being a black, lesbian lady who offers with psychological well being, and realizing so many individuals who’ve disabilities, it solely felt proper for me.
“I’ve all the time been one to advocate for these whose voices weren’t heard. And rising up, if I would had the prospect to witness somebody like myself, it could have given me far more consolation to actually be me.”
‘I would constructed up a persona of being mentally robust’
A fast take a look at Saunders’ TikTok – with a follower depend of 150,000 and rising – reveals she likes to have enjoyable.
“After I was within the Olympic village, I wished to be the lifetime of it,” Saunders says.
“In the event you ask anybody from virtually any nation, they’re going to let you know in regards to the loopy woman with the break up hair and the speaker that walked round the entire whole village, simply dancing and bumping music.
“Within the eating corridor, within the weight room, on the street, on the bus – I used to be simply attempting to get everybody concerned. It was so enjoyable, and I am like: ‘That is what I am right here for!'”
Simply as distinguished are Saunders’ posts about psychological well being – however getting to some extent the place she felt able to open up about her struggles wasn’t simple.
And the shot-putter admits that her sporting success made issues tougher.
She says: “I used to be giving a lot of myself as a result of I felt like I owed it to everybody round me – to my coaches, my team-mates, my mother and father. However I misplaced myself in that, and stopped excited about what I owed myself.
“Earlier than I opened up, I battled myself. I felt shamed and scared, the unknowingness of what folks might or might not assume.
“I would constructed up such a persona of being so robust and mentally robust, that I can take and deal with something and nothing impacts me.
“That was who I perceived myself to be, and the way I put myself on the market to the world. So going from that to being like: ‘Properly, I’ve these issues’ – I felt so weak for 2 or three days.
“I virtually slipped again, however simply listening to folks’s phrases of encouragement and the way they may relate to that… I am very grateful and blessed to have had that sort of response.”
‘I come again the following day, and the entire faculty is aware of’
Saunders’ willingness to be open additionally extends to speaking about her sexuality, and the traumatic means she was pressured to return out to her classmates when she was nonetheless at decrease faculty in Charleston, South Carolina.
“I received to fifth grade and I had the largest crush on this woman,” she remembers.
“I rewrote this Justin Timberlake music about her and put her title in it. Then I needed to go house early for a dentist appointment and instructed my greatest buddy: ‘Hey, watch my journal. Do not let anybody go in my desk.’
“I come again the following day, and the entire faculty is aware of.
“I needed to dwell with it by the remainder of the college 12 months – after which after I received to center faculty [for children aged 11 to 13], I get re-outed once more, and that is when folks began treating me bizarre there.
“It was a loopy, traumatic expertise, however it’s nothing in comparison with what some folks locally undergo.”
‘I felt my message actually had an opportunity to attach’
Submit-Olympics surgical procedure on an harm means Saunders now has a while on her palms.
In consequence, she has been capable of make extra of the social media movies that attracted loads of consideration throughout Tokyo 2020 – resembling her recommendation on the meals to keep away from within the athletes’ eating corridor on the Video games, and her baffled first expertise of utilizing a bidet.
“I have been TikToking,” she laughs.
“I like issues which are relatable, as a result of that is the sort of factor I make. So, something that is humorous, I am like: ‘OK, I like what you probably did there. That is hilarious!'”
However the loneliness the American skilled when coping with each her psychological well being and her sexuality means there’s additionally content material to assist individuals who may be struggling in their very own lives.
And in an period of Covid, Saunders believes it is much more vital for athletes to indicate that it is OK to not be OK.
“After a worldwide pandemic, everybody’s psychological well being is totally tousled,” she says.
“I do not care should you’re inexperienced, black, purple, Asian, Hispanic, Latina – everybody has handled one thing.
“So I felt like my message actually had an opportunity to attach with so many various folks, and it was one thing that wanted to be mentioned.”
Raven Saunders was chatting with the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast. You’ll be able to hear new episodes each Wednesday on BBC Sounds.