Each and every one of us has a competitive spirit. Regardless of how we get to a certain point, something sparks us to initiate a change in our lives. Sometimes that spark comes from a place of passion; where a lack of admission on a level playing field, can lead to a change in a “man’s” game.
Meet Raksha Bethencourt. She’s now 27, working in an office, and raising her child who is quickly growing. In a younger life, Raksha didn’t even like football. But that’s the beauty of the game: if you’re a competitor, the game will find you.
“I grew up in Miami. Coral Gables, the home of the “U”.
Ms. Bethencourt didn’t play the game in high school, nor did she attempt to be a trendsetter in college. She saw a special teams play at the age of 23 and got inspired.
“I can do that. I earned the name ‘Rak’.”
Raksha decided to play with and on a subdivision football team in 2017. She had moved from Miami to Orlando, and in 2016 joined the Orlando Anarchy. The Anarchy are one of many teams in the Women’s Football Alliance. The Women’s Football alliance has been a sport since 2009. Central Florida Orlando mayhem, were the original women’s football team in the area, but had transitioned into the Orlando Anarchy. The expansion team was built in a reputation of being a an up-and-coming dominant Force in the women’s game. Ms. Bethencourt had excellent timing, but had to pay her dues.
” 1st season is when I had the most injuries. I didn’t know what to do. I just wanted the ball.”
She sustained multiple injuries the first year. She broke or dislocated every one of her fingers on her left hand at least once. A ligament fracture on her left thumb once. Broke her ring finger three times. Tore both of her labrums, right meniscus, and multiple cases of bruised ribs. The Anarchy team made it to the Tier III Championship game, where they would lose Arkansas. Instead of walking away from the game, Bethencourt upped the ante; she attempted to make the men’s team as well the next year. She did.
The Orlando Phantoms were a male lower division football team in the Orlando market. In 2017 – 18, she tried out for the men’s team as well as retaining her spot on the women’s team. On the male team, she made the roster as an outside linebacker and a special teamer. Healing from her injuries and her first year of contact sport, allowed her to flourish her second year with the women’s team. Beth in court was diverse; enabling her to play wide receiver, running back, defensive end, outside linebacker, cornerback, free safety, and special teams for the women’s team.
“I play on instinct. Only time I man up is if the running back flares out. I feel that I’m an athlete, not a woman athlete.”
Bethencourt sought out off-season conditioning to strengthen her game and her core for the football seasons. Her spark had now become a passion. The Orlando Anarchy had title ambitions and a bad taste in their mouth after being defeated. So Bethencourt enrolled in Tae Kwon Do. The discipline has made Bethencourt a smarter player.
“Women are just as capable. Men are seen for strength and speed. Women are seen for speed and intelligence.”
Bethencourt wasn’t the biggest, or fastest player on either roster. She currently can only bench press 140 lbs. Her 40 time is 5.2 . She does have a 36 inch vertical. While she might have been a backup on the men’s team, she was an enforcer on the women’s team.
In 2018, the Orlando Anarchy got a bit of redemption, as they made it back to the championship game and defeated Arkansas 46-0. Ironically, the Orlando Phantoms, breezed by the competition, and won their championship series as well. In a span of two years time, Bethencourt was now a two-time champion.
“I can’t play flag football. I live for contact.”
During her time playing both female and male football in central florida, Bethencourt met Dr. Jen Welter. Dr. Welter was a former player herself, and was a major influence on Raksha. By having multiple conversations with Dr Welter, Bethencourt knew that you had to have a dual personality to succeed: Violent on the field, aggressive in life.
“Just want to live every experience I can.”
Bethencourt has found success on the field, but has bigger ambitions for her life off the gridiron. Her future goals are to become a Holistic doctor, and pursue an acting career, but she will never back away from a challenge. She has even thought about fighting in the UFC.
” My home life was hard. My parents did the best that they could with what they had. That’s what made me a likable person. I’m not a likable athlete.”
feature photo credit: Leah Sjoberg