WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, Ohio — Stow resident Valencia Rucker epitomizes the notion of being a strong woman. She is physically fit and active, while she also displays grit as a career woman.
After gaining weight in college, Rucker decided to hit the gym, where her coach suggested she pursue powerlifting.
Rucker responded, “Well, what’s powerlifting?”
She attended a competition and became determined to compete in the sport. Subsequently, the accolades followed, including Athlete of the Year in 2018 and five first-place finishes.
In the midst of training for powerlifting, a woman approached Rucker about playing football, which was another sport she did not know well.
“I knew nothing about football except what a touchdown was,” Valencia said. “I thought it was flag football. So she invited me to practice and I saw all these women hitting each other and I was like ‘Woah,’ and I got out there. Ever since then I couldn’t’ stop.
Rucker is currently a tight end for the Cleveland Fusion, a woman’s professional football team whose season starts on April 6.
“I would say they can play just as well as the men can,” said head coach and former collegiate player Erik Keister. “Sometimes you see some hits and you are just like, ‘Wow! That is fast.'”
The only differences between men and women’s professional football are the women play with a smaller football to fit their hands, and they use NCAA rules. However, the sport is often labeled or considered a game for men, as it’s more often played by men.
But Rucker is no stranger to courageously entering spaces historically dominated by men. She is currently a recruiter for Parker Hannifin and possesses a degree in electrical engineering.
“it is very challenging. Every day at work there is a three-to-one male-to-female ratio," she said. "I was previously in an oil and gas field sales role… Some men would test me and see if I actually knew the knowledge of the product I was selling. When they realized I was knowledgeable of the product they were shocked. So that reaction there from the males themselves gives me gratification and it gives me a sense of accomplishment that we can do it as women.”
For Rucker, the ability to put aside traditional gender roles set her on a path to happiness.
“I wake up and breathe football, weightlifting and my job, my career. I love what I do,” she said.
Now she hopes she can encourage others to not necessarily follow the route she runs, but, more importantly, take notice of the attitude she carries.
“I would love to be a role model for any young lady that wants to do something that no one thinks they can do,” she said. “Always just have the confidence.”