Kahli Gilchrist - a Special Sporting Story
CHAPTER 1 – The World of Dance
Across the country, some people dream of becoming an exciting football prospect, while others dream of travelling abroad to compete in a sport. Then, there are those who have managed to achieve both.
At 19 years of age, Kahli Gilchrist has experienced more, and achieved more, than what most could hope for – and she has done it all with a smile.
This is because, before Kahli Gilchrist was playing on the footy fields of New South Wales, she was competing internationally in Irish dancing.
Starting dance at age 4, she spent 12 years competing in Irish dance before eventually switching to football in 2018. However, what seems like an unorthodox approach to footy, has taught Kahli the importance of mental toughness, dedication and, above all else, hard work.
“To give you an insight into the Irish Dancing World it’s very much a cross between a beauty pageant but can be as physically and mentally tough as an Olympic Sport,” Kahli said when asked about her dancing past.
“The girls will dress up in a bedazzled costume worth up to 6 thousand a dress as well as wearing fake tan, makeup and a fake wig, all as part of the ‘show pony’ look required for the performance.”
“However, week in week out we’d train up to 6 days a week enduring injuries, pushing our bodies to the limit and undergoing intense coaching.”
Although unknown at the time, this high level of commitment and fitness required would prove invaluable when she eventually made the switch to footy. Likewise, at the time, we doubt even her parents realised just how far dancing would take Kahli.
“… My parents had tried to get me into anything they could because I was a very shy child and we stumbled upon Irish Dancing across a community noticeboard and thought we’d give it a try,” Kahli said when asked how she began competing in dance.
“Coming from a very sport-loving and enthusiast family, it was a must to get me involved in a sport which would help build my confidence.”
Looking back now it seems that this idea has worked. Kahli has confidence without arrogance, and she is one of the most upbeat people we have come across in our 3 years of writing. Changes in attitude aside, getting involved in dance provided plenty of amazing opportunities for Kahli.
Across the 12 years of competing, she claimed a State Title as well as consecutive National Titles. She was fortunate enough to travel to the United States and to Canada to compete in consecutive North American National Championships, as well as travel to the pinnacle of the sport, the World Championships, held in Dublin, Ireland.
Including the earlier mentioned State and National Titles, Kahli’s dancing career included being crowned as the Australian Oireachtas Champion, a 2-time North American National Championship Recaller, and an 8-time World Championship participant.
From these many successful years of dancing, taking out the consecutive National Championship titles are what she labels as her favourite moment in the sport.
“… I was very young at the time and had overcome a year of adversity with ongoing ankle and knee issues,” she said when reflecting on this moment. “I felt it was a very big personal feat to retain my title and persevere through to the end."
CHAPTER 2 – Entering the Footy World
After 12 years of dancing, Kahli wanted to seek out another challenge which ultimately led her to Australian Rules Football.
“I was ready to take on a new venture and see what I could achieve,” she replied when asked why she decided to switch from dance to footy.
“Although I have always been actively involved in a team sport at school, I was eager to see what I could accomplish in a team sport setting as well.”
“Years of Irish Dancing as a solo sport has helped me to understand myself as an athlete and what my strengths and weaknesses are.”
Making the move to footy, she picked up the IQ side of the sport rather quickly. Reading and anticipating the play was, and still is, a major strength of Kahli. The skills took longer to learn but, just like her dancing, she put the effort in to develop and eventually master them.
However, coming from an individual sport, she found the most challenging aspect to be adjusting to the team environment – particularly when it came to goal setting.
“… Having transitioned from an individual sport where it’s only me with me so I can set certain standards and expectations of myself and if I don’t meet those targets I can only blame myself.
“Whereas in a team environment there is such variety in the strengths that each player brings and whilst I still set certain expectations of myself, I’m better learning how to also understand how I can most help the team.”
Beginning with the Forest Lions Junior Australian Football Club in 2018, Kahli caught a glimpse of what was to come from her footy as she was selected into the Sydney North Female Talent Academy – a spot she continued to hold till the end of 2020.
The young footballer also represented the Sydney North Harbor team in 2018, a feat she would replicate in 2019.
By 2019, just her second year of football, Kahli had already managed to make a mark in the sport. The future Swan was selected into the 2019 under-18s NSW/ACT Rams side which “was an incredible experience”.
“I would say that was my first major goal which I had hoped to achieve,” she said when asked how it felt to make the Rams side in just her second year of footy.
“After playing as part of the talent pathway for two years I realised that was the team I needed to make if I wanted to be recognised in this sport. I was so thrilled and very grateful, even shedding a happy tear when I first received the news.”
Having achieved her first experience at the state level, 2019 also provided a change of pace at the local level with Kahli joining the Pittwater Lions JAFC.
Playing at Pittwater provided her with a game that she labels as a favourite of hers. The Grand Final clash between Pittwater and Queenwood also provides an insight into Kahli’s mentality since, despite not winning, she still values the moment so highly.
“It was a great game, neck and neck throughout, each term until they finally managed to win by 1 point I think it was.”
“Although not the outcome we hoped for it was a great game of true competition, we were so equally matched as teams that there was so much enjoyment had in the challenge presented as everyone knew that either team could take out the W.”
CHAPTER 3 – the Red and the White
Then came 2020, not the most ideal year for sport, but it provided more great opportunities for the developing prospect. The new year saw Kahli play with the North Shore Bombers in the AFL Sydney Women’s Premier League, represent the NSW/ACT Rams squad once again, and at the end of the year, she began trialling for the Sydney Swans Academy.
By 2021, she had been accepted into the inaugural Sydney Swans Under-19s Academy and she is currently at the benchmark trials for the Swans Open Women’s Academy.
“The opportunity to be a part of the Sydney Swans Academy is something I’m so very grateful for.”
“The high-quality coaching and training that I get to experience as part of the Academy is exactly the professional sporting environment that I set out to be involved in.
“In this academy setting, I feel as though I best thrive as an individual and receive the best development as an elite athlete.
“I’ve enjoyed every moment thus far and I aspire to continue with the program and beyond as the Swans look to build their first AFLW team.”
Once again, the new year came with new colours, with 2021 marking Kahli’s first season with the Manly Warringah Wolves in the AFL Sydney Women’s Premier League.
“The atmosphere that the girls bring is always positive and welcoming,” she said when asked about her time at the Wolves. “I have enjoyed being involved with this group.”
“The side is filled with lots of girls with great footy IQ as well many up and comer’s including the likes of Jess Doyle, who is a newly drafted GWS Giant as of this year.”
Having played football for 4 years, Kahli is already knocking on the AFLW’s door. Yet she never expected to get this far in footy so soon, with time already spent in the Swans Academy, the ACT/NSW Rams side, and the AFL Sydney Women’s Premier League.
“Honestly I didn’t anticipate what would come with my footy journey as I had never ventured into team sport at a serious level before.”
“As I’ve always been one to aspire to achieve all that I can, I knew from the beginning I wanted to reach the top, that being ultimately playing AFLW.
“However, I knew I was new to the sport and thus couldn’t expect myself to make every team or shoot straight to the top.
“No matter how long or slow the journey I’ve told myself I have to continue my growth as an athlete and a footballer and I know that by placing my energy into that concept I will be putting my best foot forward towards the dreams I hope to achieve. “Just as I had learnt in dancing to take care of what I can control and focus on my performance, I’ve translated that to my development in AFL.”
CHAPTER 4 – a Sporting Surname
There is one aspect left of her sporting story that we have hinted at but are yet to address, which is that she is the niece of Australian cricket legend, Adam Gilchrist.
“Well for me it’s just a last name. Growing up having a family member who is such an iconic sports figure in Australia, I couldn’t understand when I was younger what the fuss was all about. To me, he has always been just Uncle Adam.”
“As I’ve grown up I can now appreciate what he has done for cricket in Australia as well his contribution to our sporting culture, but it’s also been quite fascinating being on the other side as I’ve experienced and seen firsthand fame and fans up close.
“The biggest thing it has taught me is that I too can go out and achieve anything if I invest my time and energy into it.
"That’s why perhaps I’ve never necessarily grown up having any big-name sporting idols as I’ve never wished to be like someone else, rather I’ve pursued my dream to become an athlete that hopefully others wish to be. “It’s demonstrated that anything is attainable should you want to go out and pursue it.”
Kahli believes that growing up with a family member performing on the world stage has been a big contributor in how she goes about her sporting endeavours – and we have to agree.
Adam Gilchrist, regarded as one of the game’s greatest ever wicketkeeper-batsman, displayed the dedication required to perform so highly at the international level for so long, setting records in the process.
Carrying the same surname, Kahli has done exactly that. Her ability to switch to football after years of success at dancing and have an impact so soon shows the high level of commitment she possesses. Even now, she is juggling her sporting commitments with her university study.
Following on, Adam Gilchrist was renowned for walking when he considered himself to be out. Earning respect from his teammates and opponents respectively.
Reminiscent of these actions is Kahli who, despite having achieved an amazing amount in 2 sports, is as humble as anyone.
Competing at the world championships for dance 8-times, representing the Rams and donning the colours of the Swans – all while she is still in her teens, means that Kahli has already done the Gilchrist surname proud.
But just like her well-respected uncle, Kahli’s attitude means she values the experiences and opportunities more than the success, which explains why she had to make sure she thanked those who have helped her.
“Above all, I have to thank my immediate family for the sacrifices and work they’ve put into my sporting endeavours.”
“If it weren’t for their encouragement, support and love through the highs and lows and across my many sporting ventures I wouldn’t be in the position I am today.”
“A position in which I have been fortunate enough to have experienced many incredible opportunities which have shaped me into the athlete I am today.”
And as she continues along this extremely exciting footballing path, we may see Gilchrist become a famous surname in another one of Australia’s most-loved sports.
Feel free to share, and don't forget to Like and Subscribe for more on Women's Footy!
Minutes with Moose would like to thank all of our ambassadors.
None of these images is owned by MWM; the images have been supplied by the player and were personally taken.