Burke senior Saunders chasing another dream

Burke standout Raven Saunders is raising money to attend the USA Junior Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, in July.

Raven Saunders has never been afraid to work for her dreams.

The Burke High School track and field standout has practiced the shot put and discus wherever she could, sometimes throwing from the street or sidewalk back towards the grass on Harmon Field across the street from her school.

That work ethic has helped Saunders earn a track scholarship from Southern Illinois and set national high school records in the shot put. Now, the senior has her sights set on a berth on Team USA for the World Junior Championships to be held in July.

To make Team USA, Saunders will have to compete in the U.S. Junior Track and Field Championships, set for July 5-6 in Eugene, Oregon. And in order to make that trip, she must raise about $5,000, a daunting figure for a high schooler.

But rather than give up on that dream, Saunders got to work, setting up a website where supporters can donate to her cause. With more than $2,600 raised thus far, she's more than halfway to her goal.

"The World Junior Championships is basically the Olympics for people under 20 years old," said Saunders. "And it's something I've always wanted to do since I got into the sport. When I was a freshman only throwing 20 feet, I had the dream of competing for the USA, but I was afraid I'd never be able to accomplish that.

"Now that I'm one of the top throwers in the nation and have a chance to make the team, the last thing I want to stop me from achieving my dream is money."

Saunders said she's humbled by the support she's received so far. Families of track athletes at Bishop England High School donated $1,000 to her effort, and she said the track program at Woodland has pledged to raise money, too.

That Saunders has the talent and drive to make Team USA is evident. She set a national high school indoor record with a shot put of 56 feet, 7 1/2 inches at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in March. Then, in April, she set the U.S. high school outdoor mark with a throw of 56-8 1/4, bettering the previous mark of of 54-10 3/4 set in 2003 by Michelle Carter, an Olympian current American record holder.

Saunders, who credits being able to train at The Citadel for much of her recent improvement, will participate in the Lower State track meet this weekend, with an eye toward winning the shot put and discus at the state meet May 16-17 in Columbia.

Then, it will be on to bigger and better things for Raven Saunders - money permitting.