Abby Dahlkemper: Forging Ahead in Virtue Of The Past
Photographer: Wendy Huyn / Stylist: Lily McMurray / HMUA: Sally Rowe / Words: Sarah Hughes
Abby Dahlkemper can be adduced as the walking example of a ‘go-getter’ and, time after time, she has shown how there’s nothing wrong with change as long as you’re moving in the right direction.
From playing collegiately with the UCLA Bruins, heading to Australia on a loan with Adelaide United, winning two championships with North Carolina Courage, to playing the most minutes of any outfield player during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup triumph – Abby has a gift for adapting to new terrain. Even with her recent move to Manchester City, it hasn’t taken the defender long to find her footing and gain traction in the FA Women’s Super League, becoming the third American international to sign for the club during the 2020-21 season.
During her time in the UK, Abby has praised the technical and tactical level of the league and is excited to develop her own game against new opposition. Abby has always had a rugged sense of determination when it comes to self-improvement. Hailing from the laid-back streets of Menlo Park in Northern California, we get an insight into how one’s upbringing can help amidst the ever-rising intensity and pressure of top-level performance.
Growing up, who was your hero and what impact did they have on your life?
I’ve always had a strong relationship with my mom and I looked up to her in many ways growing up… I still do! There are so many lessons she’s taught me, but I remember her really driving home the value of putting your head down and working hard. She was able to spot my “want-to-win” mentality from a young age and how I never really took no for an answer. It inspired me to channel that drive into my love for soccer. That’s ultimately when I was able to excel at what I do best. So I owe a lot to my mom, in many ways… it’s like she knew exactly what I needed in every aspect of life. I still feel she might know me better than I know myself.
Who introduced and influenced your love of the game?
Honestly, I think I kind of drove myself in that sense. I was always pretty intrigued by the game itself. I remember waking up early and watching soccer games on TV, being obsessed with the national team and seeing the women sort of paving that way. I would say the love was always there inside of me from the very beginning.
Do you think the people who you grew up with, on the pitches and in the local neighbourhood, would say that you were always destined for this?
Maybe so – yes. I think if you were to ask anyone in the tiny neighbourhood I grew up in, they’d have always seen me with the ball at the end of my cul-de-sac, whether I was juggling or getting touches in. I think it was just so clear how much I loved it and where my passion laid from the get-go.
What about you, do you believe in destiny?
Totally. Yes, I’m a firm believer in what’s meant to be will happen. At some point you just have to stop worrying about what you can’t control, which is obviously way easier said than done. I think worrying over things will most likely lead to more disappointment or failure, so it’s best to just believe in the process – allow yourself to feel inspired and set goals, but not dwell over it too much.
Have you doubted yourself on this journey? How do you overcome doubt?
I think doubt is this very human, ebb and flow thing, where some days you feel it a little, other days a lot, and others none at all. So I think it’s things like positive self-talk, positive imagery, believing in yourself and being your own biggest fan that can really help counter those feelings. You’ve got to dig a bit deeper, really get to know yourself, know what makes you tick… then you grow to trust and accept what giving your personal best looks like, day by day.
Do you have a favourite coach/mentor from childhood? What did you learn from them?
I feel like I’ve been so fortunate with the coaches I’ve had throughout my career that I really couldn’t pick just one. Each of them has pushed me to a new level and has demanded a lot out of me… which is a good thing! It’s that kind of ‘tough-love’ that shows they believe in you and know you have what it takes. But that was definitely a hard learning lesson for me growing up, being just like “Wow I would love a normal, steady job”, but instead they were always kind of pushing me. I don’t know where I’d be without those people in my corner who’ve always believed in me, because they saw something that maybe I didn’t.
The fans you have today know you for your defending talents. What is another passion you hold close to you that your fans may be surprised to hear about?
I love where I’m from in California and go to the beach whenever I can. I love soccer, but I love life outside of soccer as well. I think that it’s such a good thing to have that balance.
Spending a lot of your childhood in California, was being outdoors something you enjoyed from a young age or was this a later development?
It definitely stemmed from my time spent outdoors as a kid. Growing up with an older and younger brother, I was outside literally all the time with the boys in the dirt, like making dirt ramps for our bikes. For the most part, I’ve never had an easy time sitting still, so I definitely took advantage of being in California.
Seeing as you’re the only girl in the family alongside your brothers, how do you think this dynamic has helped shape the Abby we know today?
I was definitely a tomboy growing up and I wanted to do everything with my older brother and his friends. So I had to be like this ‘tough girl’ that could hang with the boys, and I did that! So I think that’s definitely shaped who I am today… I’d still like to think of myself as a little bit of a tomboy.
We hear that in another life you’d have been a hairstylist or photographer who travels around the world shooting surfing. How good are you on a surfboard?
Ha! No, I’m not that good on a surfboard – that’s why I would strictly shoot surfing. I just think it would be so cool to be able to travel to tropical places and shoot beautiful photography. I’ve also always wanted to go to beauty school and open my own hair salon or something, so that might be in the future, but who knows – I’m just going with the flow.
Where is a place that you always make sure to go to when you first arrive back home in California?
Well, the beach comes first, and then I absolutely love this Mexican food spot called LuLu’s. They have the best guacamole and burritos – oh and the shrimp tacos!
Are you able to ever fully switch off after a game?
I think I’m still learning to separate evaluating my play while also taking my mind off of it and enjoying myself a little bit outside of soccer. But ultimately, yes, I’m definitely able to enjoy myself off the pitch and not get too consumed by all of the ‘shoulda-woulda-couldas.’
I know you’ve spoken a lot about your philosophy of giving 100% and never being fully satisfied with your play. This takes an admirable amount of mental strength. How do you create a sense of balance in your life whilst constantly giving it your all?
Having your head where your feet are is really important. For me, balance is cultivated through really grounding myself in the present moment. So yes, I may think it would be a waste of time if I didn’t give it my all when performing on the pitch, but trying to practice being present as much as possible is the most important thing for me.
Making the bold move to Manchester, your place on foreign turf must feel very new and refreshing. When you’re off the pitch, what do you do to help you feel new and refreshed?
As of now, just exploring all that Manchester has to offer has been awesome – there’s great food and the people are lovely. I’m focusing on enjoying the experience here and immersing myself in the culture one day at a time.
Finally, can you describe a bit how it feels to be part of trailblazing a path for the next generation of women’s football?
First off it’s an honour. I think just to be able to be surrounded by such strong, empowering female figures – my teammates, especially. They inspire me every day to push and show up as the best version of myself, which I think is our human duty – to give all that we have.
Like the brave women who played before me, it’s really important for me to one day take the torch and pass it on to future faces of women’s football.
It can be hard to find your voice when you’re young, but I’m 27 now and I think it’s my duty to speak on topics I feel strongly need to change for the better… to constantly be pushing the ceiling. That’s huge for me, and I feel so grateful for the platform soccer has given me – I’ll just keep trying to use it in the best way.