It was NCAA star player Grayson Allen’s first game back after his suspension that came from deliberately tripping an opposing player. Everyone in the press room was fighting their way to him, including 20-year-old Abigail Keenan.
This was only the beginning of many experiences where fighting her way through unseen obstacles would lead her to achieve her dreams. Her ability to pivot and find unique opportunities led her to photographing The Bucket List Family and to interning with the Los Angeles Lakers.
With everyone surrounding Allen in the locker room, Keenan had to think fast. She knew that she wanted that shot, but how could she get it?
“This was my first time rushing into the locker room, and I had no idea what to do,” Keenan said. “Being the newcomer once again, I saw a three-person deep wall surrounding Allen.”
Clawing her way through eager reporters, she still couldn’t fight her way through the barricade of people surrounding Allen.
“There was no getting through, so I thought quick: ‘shoot under,’” Keenan said.
Keenan reached down and tilted her camera up. She took a chance and shot between the legs of the man in front of her. With her fingers crossed that the angle was right, she snapped a picture hoping to capture where Allen was sitting. She then looked at the picture on her camera, and to her surprise, the photo was not only in focus but also in perfect lighting. What occurred that day in the press room foreshadowed the rest of Keenan’s journey — nothing is off limits.
Keenan, a former Daily Universe photographer and 2019 BYU School of Communications graduate, saw what felt like a far-fetched dream became reality when she scored an internship with the Lakers. However, the path that led her there was anything but conventional.
“A lot of my experiences have been without a press pass. They’ve been sneaking down and pretending that I had a press pass and being pretty terrified the whole time that someone was going to kick me out,” Keenan said.
This attribute was something that people could see in Keenan from the very beginning. One of her professors at BYU, Miles Romney, said, “When opportunities weren’t there, she created her own. She flew herself to Duke and other places to build the portfolio she wanted to have. She didn’t wait for official capacities to open up. She found them and created her own opportunities.”
Keenan also has a gift for being at the right place at the right time. One of these opportunities presented itself when Garrett Gee, father and member of The Bucket List Family and Scan app founder, hired Keenan right out of Lone Peak High School to photograph the BYU men’s soccer team. Gee has acted as a mentor and supporter for Keenan since her start at BYU.
“The first time I came across Abby’s photography I instantly fell in love, specifically with her ability to not only capture the beauty of a moment but the emotion,” Gee said. “She captures the true essence of events in such a way that it transports you into that experience.”
Being able to network and build off of relationships has played an important role in getting Keenan to where she is today. She had to work hard to move from one closed door to the next until she found herself on the court capturing the moments she had always dreamed of.
“I realized that if I could make a portfolio of the work that I wanted to get, people in that stature would see and respect that,” she said.
Her first time shooting the Lakers was another backdoor opportunity. One of her close friends who works on marketing for athletes was trying to work with NBA player Kyle Kuzma. He was in contact with Kuzma’s agent and reached out to Keenan about the possibility of shooting some photos of the Lakers.
“I got into the (arena) and just shot pre-game and then was too scared to go down to the court. I just pretended to know what I was doing down in the court,” Keenan said.
She tweeted some of the photos that she took of LeBron James and received a message on Twitter from the vice president of marketing for the Lakers saying they liked the photos and asked her where she was located.
Ecstatic, she took an expensive Uber ride from Orange County up to Los Angeles to meet the vice president of marketing and soon discovered that he was also a BYU grad. He expressed that they really liked her work, but there just wasn’t a spot open for her. However, soon an internship position opened. She immediately jumped on the opportunity to apply. Keenan was thrilled when she was offered the internship and her journey with the Lakers began.
“I’ve learned to trust that when someone says ‘no,’ you have to believe that you will get something greater down the road,” Keenan said.
Even with her dream job working with the Lakers, however, everything is not exactly as she expected. She said she has had to put in extra time and energy in order to succeed as a woman in a male-dominant sports industry.
Keenan said she needs to really know all of the athletes and put in extra time to succeed. In the sports industry, Keenan said that it seems like if a girl doesn’t know a face, it is assumed that she isn’t educated. However, if a male doesn’t know a face, it is just assumed that he must have blanked.
“Being a female in the sports world, I have always used my position as a fresh set of eyes and a different perspective,” Keenan said. “Just because I am a girl doesn’t limit me. I have to know my stuff that much more and keep up to pace in certain things so that I am taken seriously.”
Another hurdle has been accepting that it is OK not to get personal recognition for her work.
“It’s hard because there’s an assumption that when you post photos of these massive athletes that they see everything, but as of right now none of them have posted my work,” Keenan said. “LeBron waved at me and it made me want to cry. So, for now, that’s good enough for me.”
She has sent photos to NBA stars like Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma and realized she could not take it personally when they did not respond or jump at the opportunity to post her work. She said they have a million people giving them content all the time and that she realized there were more important things to worry about than getting credit.
She may not receive the photo credit for all of the content that she is creating, but Keenan said that having the opportunity to work on something bigger than herself is the greatest benefit and makes her work worth it.
“I don’t really even care if my name isn’t on everything or if it isn’t posted the way I want. My job is so satisfying,” Keenan said.
Keenan is proof that somebody can go a long way when they don’t get caught up in who gets the credit. Her example also serves as proof that there are no limits when you are willing to work hard and be relentlessly persistent.
“The sky is the limit for her. She can go as far as she wants to go. It takes sacrifice, hard work and risk and she is not afraid of that,” Romney said.