ORLANDO, Fla. – In 2017, Raksha Bethencourt made history in a sport dominated by men. During a football tryout among 76 men, she made the cut and became the first woman to be part of the Phantoms’ minor league football team.
“I first started getting into football just on a whim. I saw something on the television and I was like oh, I could do that,” the 25-year-old said.
Four years ago, while watching a football game, she didn’t even like the sport yet she was intrigued by it and decided to try out for Orlando’s Anarchy women’s minor league team.
After joining the team, she set herself up on a mission to play like the big guys.
"I wanted to push myself, I wanted to really learn it. It became a cause for me, you know, for my daughter," Bethencourt said.
She learned so well, that at 5-foot 4-inches tall she’s a defensive player--an outside linebacker for the Phantoms team.
“The hardest part of the men’s team has been to get over my brain. It’s been to get over the mentality of I’m small, they’re big. They’re gonna crush me -- like you have to wipe it out. Because if not, you’ll actually get hurt,” she said.
Although the single mom and full-time legal assistant has broken a hand several times and suffered other injuries, these injuries haven’t kept her from tackling her cause, especially when she wants to set an example for her 7-year-old daughter, Mia.
“The only way to teach my daughter to be great, to be dedicated, to be disciplined, to love herself, to respect herself and to demand at least equal opportunities everywhere, is to do it,” she said.
The Orlando native says her size has actually helped her go up against the more than 6-feet-tall men she plays with on the field.
“It’s easy to hide behind people and then pop out of nowhere. I’ve gotten a lot of videos where they’re like: ‘Dude, where you come from?’ and I’m like: I was behind that guy,” she said with a laugh. “You learn to outsmart them, you learn to cut the angles right for your body to get to the play.”
Aside from being No. 48 for the Phantoms team and currently training twice a week, Bethencourt has a full-time job with a law firm and a part-time job working from home.
Bethencourt hopes to inspire more women to break the glass ceiling. Most importantly, she wants her daughter to learn from her determination and tackle anything she sets her mind to.
“I’m not the only one, I’m just a small contribution to the whole glass falling," she said. "There are other women out there that are also breaking the glass, with a bigger force. I’m just putting my contribution to the bigger picture.”