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Kokura finds inspiration, strength on football field

by Kaz Nagatsuka

After the game, Noriko Kokura was going to end her life.

But she stopped, because she found a ray of hope through the game of football.

Or more precisely, through a player.

Kokura couldn’t envision a bright future for herself, as she had suffered from multiple diseases since childhood.

So, she wanted to depart from this world.

While harboring that feeling, she watched Super Bowl XXXII between the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers, sitting in front of a TV set along with her father, like they had done every year since she was in elementary school.

Kokura, then in her final year of junior high school, had an eye-opening experience.

She was intrigued by the Broncos’ ace running back, Terrell Davis. Her heart was moved to see Davis building such tight bonds with his teammates on the field.

Kokura, who had suffered from atopic dermatitis, asthma, and PDD (pervasive developmental disorder) since childhood, always felt alone and could never build relationships with anyone.

But from that moment on, she abandoned the idea of killing herself.

“His game sent a ray of light into my heart,” Kokura said in an e-mail interview. “I’d seen so many games before, but I’d never seen a player believing in his teammates that much. And his teammates believed in him too.”

Kokura’s life has since made a complete turnaround.

She’s determined to become a professional football player in the United States.

The high school Kokura enrolled in did not have a football program, so she joined the judo team to train her body. She also began playing for the tennis team to concentrate on her footwork late in her freshman year.

At the end of the day, everything was for the purpose of playing football in the future.

Kokura, a native of Tottori Prefecture, finally got to put on pads and a helmet at Shimane University. It wasn’t for a women’s team, however. She was on the men’s varsity team. She was mainly a running back — like Davis — and a defensive end.

“It ended up becoming a good experience for me to play with male players,” she said. “Obviously, they’re physically better, but at the same time I was thinking that I had to train myself to beat them if I wanted to play in the States in the future.”

After graduating from the university, Kokura worked as a part-time elementary school instructor and a part-time farmer (to strengthen herself), while rehabbing her injured knees. She also played for the Lady Kong, a women’s team in Japan.

Eventually, she began making attempts to play in the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL), a full-tackle football circuit in the U.S. which began play in 2001.

In 2008, she realized her dream. Kokura cracked the Sacramento Sirens roster and she’s been on the team every year since.

At the same time, she’s now overcome her diseases and disorders through football.

“It’s exceptionally joyful to take the same steps along with my teammates, coaches and staff, who all love the game” Kokura, 28, said of her feelings about playing in the game’s motherland. ” Of course, we argue once in a while and have a lot of ups and downs, but we can overcome those like a family.”

Kokura devotes everything to the game. She doesn’t just play on the gridiron, but also works on a football staff during the offseason — well, offseason from her playing standpoint.

She serves as a defensive analysis staff member for the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers of the Japanese X League.

The Sirens, a Pacific West division team, finished runnerup in the league last year. So in her third season, Kokura’s goal is clear-cut: win the championship.

“I’d like to play in all the games, playing dynamically to entertain the fans,” said Kokura, who mainly plays defensive tackle but will also be a running back and long snapper in the 2011 campaign.

Sacramento opens up its season away against Modest Maniax on April 9.