Reina Nakazawa wanted to be on the field playing and not cheerleading, while watching an American football game a few years ago.

Her wildest dream finally came true despite many difficulties, when Nakazawa, 35, passed a tryout to join a women’s professional football league in the United States.

Nakazawa started playing football after she turned 30, because she wanted to become like the male football players she saw competing in the field in pads while she was performing as a cheerleader with pom-poms.

Nakazawa will join the Legends Football League, which was established in 2009 and changed its name from the Lingerie Football League in 2013. She will be the first Japanese to play in the league.

Players in the seven-on-seven league don swimwear-like uniforms over their well-toned bodies along with shoulder pads and helmets.

Late last year, Nakazawa passed the tryout for the Atlanta Steam as a running back.

“My endeavor was deemed by some people around me as thoughtless conduct,” Nakazawa said. “But I now think it was right that I followed my own heart and continued moving forward.”

Nakazawa became interested in cheerleading when studying at Dokkyo University, and started performing as a cheerleader of the Obic Seagulls in a professional football league known as the X League in 2012.

The turning point came when she watched a video showing football players in the Legends league.

“I felt that their (muscular bodies) embody the strength of women,” Nakazawa said.

Afterward, when she was a cheerleader in Japan’s Rice Bowl national championship in 2013 and 2014, Nakazawa envied male football players for being able to compete in front of more than 20,000 spectators.

“I wanted to be playing in the field at the time,” she said.

Acting on her desire to play in the United States, Nakazawa retired as a cheerleader when she was 31 and began practicing football with junior high school students and male players aged 40 or older in Japan.

Her family and friends, however, did not view her attempt in a favorable light. While one said, “Why don’t you get married and have babies?” others asked, “Can a Japanese accomplish such a thing?” and “Why are you trying to be a professional football player?”

In March 2016, Nakazawa joined a training camp for female football players at the practice field of a U.S. professional football team, where many women of various nationalities and ages who simply love playing the sport participated.

“The opportunity provided encouragement,” Nakazawa said. “I did not want to give up without even taking on the challenge. I then became determined to do what I really want to do.”

Although the season opened in the Legends Football League in April, Nakazawa is still practicing in Japan because her visa is late in arriving. She will go to the United States to join her team as a trainee this season, as soon as she obtains the visa.

Nakazawa, who is looking to play in the next season, said she hopes her endeavor will inspire other Japanese women.

“I feel that women are strongly supposed to behave in specific ways in Japan,” she said. “But I proceeded step by step toward my dream. I will be happy if my taking the challenge helps others make their own first step.”