Lowcountry Olympian Raven Saunders returns home

RAW VIDEO: Raven Saunders returns home
Saunders embraces family at Charleston airport (Source: WCSC)
Saunders embraces family at Charleston airport (Source: WCSC)
Raven Saunders returns home. (Source: WCSC)
Raven Saunders returns home. (Source: WCSC)
Raven Saunders returns home. (Source: WCSC)
Raven Saunders returns home. (Source: WCSC)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Lowcountry Olympian Raven Saunders has arrived home.

Saunders flew in to the Charleston International Airport Wednesday night from Rio de Janeiro and was greeted by her mother, family and friends.

"I'm so happy to be back home," Saunders said as she was smiling, surrounded by family."I don't even have the words."

As she was making her way to her family, people could be heard chanting "USA, USA!"

Saunders hasn't been back in the Lowcountry since Christmas and has been out of the country for two weeks.

She said her experience at the Olympics was amazing.

"Meeting so many elite level athletes across the whole world, and having the best teammates in the world," Saunders said."It was phenomenal."

As for Saunders' experience in competing in the Olympics, she said she was happy with her performance finishing 5th place in the women's shot put final.

"I wish I could've done more, possibly brought back a medal to Charleston but I mean I still did my best and I got a [personal record] at the Olympic games, my first time around," Saunders said."I really can't be upset about that one."

Saunders said it also meant so much for her that her family was there to support her.

"Having my little sister when I had my first throw, in my mind I was like,'I have a little sister out here watching me compete,'" she said."And she's a thrower too. So I have to go out there and put my best foot forward so she knows what to look forward to."

Also in attendance in Rio, was Saunders' aunt, Tonetta Watson-Coleman, who along with many others waited for her niece's return with family and friends at the airport earlier on Wednesday.

"I'm very excited, even though I saw her in Rio," Watson-Coleman said."I'm ready to see her at home. I'm ready to welcome her home to celebrate her."

Saunders set a personal best with her final throw of the medal round last week helping her to finish in 5th place of the women's shot put final at the Olympic Games in Rio.

"She was very happy," Watson Coleman said."She was a little disappointed when she dropped the shot put on her second throw and that's to be expected. But she was ecstatic about her fifth place and her personal best record."

Saunders, a Burke alum now at Ole Miss, had her final throw of the evening travel 19.35 meters. It's the farthest she's ever thrown in a competition.

She would make a throw of 18.88 meters on her first attempt which was good enough to put her in the top 8. But Saunders struggled for a while, fouling on her next four attempts before setting her personal best.

"May not be top 3 but 5th aint bad for a first timer." Saunders wrote on her Instagram page. "These past 365 I have faced many big changes. They say what didn't kill you makes you stronger and I believe that's how I got to this point. Thanks for all the support this season."

"We're extremely proud," Watson Coleman said."There aren't any words to explain how happy we are for, and how proud we are of her."

Back at home, during the competition, a legion of Raven's fans gathered at Burke High School and watched the event streamed in the auditorium. Four thousand miles away locals also watched from Raven's alma mater and cheered her on.

Though she didn't bring home a medal, Saunders is still a golden girl to so many.

Her uncle, Dureese Coleman, knew she was going to go far.

"Being an Olympian is a dream that she's always wanted to achieve," he said.

She didn't start with shot put; she tried basketball first. Wayne Alston is her former basketball coach and the Burke High Athletic Director.

"I realized basketball wasn't really for her, so I was like Raven you need to do track," Alston said.

And ever since she hasn't turned back. She is a rising junior at the University of Mississippi with three NCAA titles and now she can add Olympian to that.

"This is a journey she's been speaking of for several years," Coleman said.

"She's that type of kid that she has the work ethic that nobody can compare to, she just goes all out all the time," Alston said.

And she has a community of supporters that want her to have nothing but the best.

If you want to welcome Raven back home, there will be a ceremony at Burke High School on Thursday at 2 p.m. as well as a parade to Marion Square at 6 p.m.

Here's information on the parade:

The parade will be held Thursday, August 18, 2016.

Participants will line up at Burke High School at President Street and Sumter Street. The parade begins at 6:00 p.m. and proceeds east on Sumter Street to King Street, south on King Street to Marion Square where it will end. It will be necessary to close intersections on King Street as the participants approach these intersections. Those intersections will reopen once the participants pass. Calhoun Street between Meeting Street and St. Phillip Street will be closed to traffic as the parade approaches because this is the break down area.  

Copyright 2016 WCSC. All rights reserved.