Charlize Lew loves her Vixens soft toy fox mascot and her Kate Moloney badge. The fact that her two other favourite players are midcourters Liz Watson and Renae Ingles might just have a little something to do with the three-year-old’s genes, as well.
The daughter of five-time Melbourne Phoenix and Vixens premiership-winning WD/C Natasha Chokljat-Lew and her former Australian Rugby Sevens-playing husband James, young Charlize has not so much been pushed in netball’s direction as almost found her own way there.
“All her sneakers are netball shoes, and I haven’t done that,’’ laughs Chokljat, 40. “I just took her to one of the games, and Kate Moloney and Liz Watson came over and gave her one of the little Vixens fox dolls. From that moment on, she’s like ‘NETBALL!’, whenever she sees it on the news or the TV or anything, and I’m like ‘YES!’.
“But I will not be pushing it, that’s her choice. I played basketball growing up, so we’ll see.’’
Chokljat has played just one season of social netball since her 2011 retirement following 10 seasons and four flags with the Phoenix, three years - including the 2009 ANZ Championship win - as foundation Vixen #4, and a less-satisfying farewell cameo with Southern Steel when James was competing in New Zealand.
The 29-Test Diamond and 2003 world championships silver medallist works as a business development representative for property group DEXUS, and is expecting the family’s second child in December. Life is good, but busy, and what she misses most about netball is the team environment and those she shared it with for so long.
“I do miss a little bit the competitive side and - I think this is a common theme with most people who’ve retired - I really miss the training, and seeing all the girls every day,’’ says Chokljat, who remains in regular touch Bianca Chatfield and Sharelle McMahon, and also sees friends such as Eloise Southby, Joh Munro (Curran) Liz Boniello and Susan Meaney when time and geography permits.
“I think I’d have been happy to be retired, but just train, for a couple of years. Just to see everyone,’’ she adds. “You go through some really special moments with all your closest friends, like obviously winning premierships and things like that, and you miss those amazing highs.’’
Chokljat doesn’t see as many games as she would like, but still gets along to a couple each season - these days with Charlize happily in tow - and looks forward in particular to Netball Victoria’s annual past players’ match-day gathering where former Phoenix and Kestrels players happily mingle and chat.
The Netball Vic and soon-to-be Netball Tasmania Hall-of-Famer will also be part of the 2009 team acknowledged at this year’s Sharelle McMahon Medal, 10 years after that inaugural Vixens’ flag. Indeed, it is only now that her career is over that the speedy, elastic athlete who first moved to Melbourne as a shy teenager has a better understanding of what she achieved.
“How do I look back on it? It was enjoyable. You probably don’t appreciate what you’ve done, sometimes, until you have retired,'' she says. There’s some pretty special memories there and I’m probably more proud of them now that I have retired, and I look back and I go ‘wow, you have done that’, whereas at the time you’re just travelling along and doing it, if that makes sense.
“Moving away from home at 16, 17, and things like that, you think ‘oh, jeez, I did have a bit of determination, I’m glad I did do that, and that I persevered’. So I look back with very fond memories.’’
When told that some young players coming through nominate her as a childhood hero, Chokljat jokes self-deprecatingly that means she must be getting old, and “they must be short centre courts, that’s all I can say!’’
This short(ish) former centre court was a relative giant of Victorian netball in her time, though, and, although there were some inevitable disappointments, there were also far more highs than lows.
“Some people go their whole career without winning a premiership,’’ Chokljat says. “So I feel very lucky to have won so many, and I feel very lucky to have made so many lifelong friends.’’Written by Linda Pearce