NS EXCLUSIVE: All in the Fowler family

NS EXCLUSIVE: All in the Fowler family

Rated as one of the greatest netballers ever, Jhaniele Fowler is also the world’s best mum, according to her daughter Drehannah.

The pair have a super-glue tight bond despite long periods of time spent apart, particularly during the worst of the Covid years. With Fowler based mainly in Western Australia, and her daughter in Jamaica, their separation has been tough, particularly on birthdays and Mothers’ Days. They’ve endured however, and recently life has changed for the better as the family have – mostly – been reunited.

With visas in hand, Fowler’s fiancé, Ashani Nembhard, and Drehannah have joined the superstar in Perth, although her mum and little brother remain back in Jamaica. Having settled into the sunny coastal lifestyle, Drehannah has enrolled at a local school, and the family’s lighthearted YouTube channel @TallFamTV connects with people at home.



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Drehannah has always been her mum’s greatest motivator, and is particularly proud of her exceptional nine months. Last season, the sharp shooter won a premiership with Fever, her fifth consecutive league MVP, and a silver medal with Jamaica at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. On a personal level she accepted Nembhard’s marriage proposal at the start of 2023 and her family were able to join her in Perth a couple of months later.

While Fowler said it’s been a surreal period of time, she’s put in the hard work for her daughter. “I have a strong inner drive to be better than I was the day before, the month before, the year before. Always to supersede what I’ve done.

“It’s to be a role model for my daughter – someone she can hopefully look up to and emulate in the utmost positive of ways.”



Jhaniele Fowler is regularly double-teamed by other athletes in an attempt to slow her down. Image Steve McLeod


The hardest – and easiest – decision

Fowler grew up in Montego Bay, moving to St Thomas at 19 years of age. Proud of her heritage, Fowler said, “Montego Bay is one of the most beautiful parishes in Jamaica, and while I don’t visit as often as I’d like, it’s good to return to my original roots.

“But St Thomas is where I became a mother, brought up and nurtured my daughter. It’s a very down to earth lifestyle, and I enjoy my island a lot.”

Despite being in and out of hospital with rheumatic heart disease when she was little, Fowler manages her condition with the help of medication, and believes it hasn’t impacted her career in any way. She said, “I am super grateful that I can still perform to the top level – I just thank God I was given this gift and can utilise it as much as I have.”

When Drehannah was just four, Fowler made the decision to further her netball career by moving overseas. She said, “It was both one of the hardest and one of the easiest decisions, in the same breath.

“Netball was my dream. I wanted to play outside Jamaica to gain more experience and become a much better player. So I knew that when the opportunity presented itself, that I would have to take it, and that I would also have my daughter with me at some point.

“But having to leave her at that young age was also the hardest thing, and technology wasn’t the best at that time, so I wasn’t able to see her as much as I wanted to.”

Fowler had originally been destined for the Thunderbirds in 2012, but with Carla Borrego unable to gain citizenship in time, the club was denied a second import. And so the following season, Fowler headed to the chillier climes of New Zealand instead, signing with the Southern Steel. Travelling without her family, she picked up a swag of awards, but found the homesickness and cold made her miserable at times.

Away for six months, she missed her daughter, but said, “She was the most amazing little kid. When I got back home, it was like I’d never been away.

“The bond that we had, and still have, is the most amazing thing that I could ever ask for.”


Jhaniele Fowler and teammate Khadijah Williams at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Image Simon Leonard


Retirement almost beckoned

After five years with the Steel, Fowler – almost – retired from netball. It was thanks to both her mum Dorothy, and Drehannah, that she didn’t.

Fowler explained, “The season was almost finished, and mum was with me in New Zealand. I said, ‘Mum, I think I have an inclination to move on or do something different, something else. I’m thinking of retiring.’

“I told her I would go home, finish my degree and step into a new career path.

“Mum said to me, ‘You’re not done yet, you have so much more to give to netball!’”

Fowler also consulted Drehannah regularly, wondering if her long absences were too much for the child. However, her daughter was adamant she should keep playing. Drehannah said, “I do get involved in Mum’s decisions. Whenever she would ask if I wanted her to retire, I was like, ‘Nooooo! Continue.

“I love watching her play so much, and I am proud, so, so proud of her.”

Shortly after those conversations, Fowler was contacted by several Australian franchises, and asked Dorothy’s opinion. Her mother responded, ‘See – you still have more. And while you might be done in New Zealand, you can go to Australia, and it’s going to be a new and different experience for you, so I think you should take it on.’

“So I listened to my mother, and continued, otherwise I would have retired. That’s why I moved to Australia – to see what more I had to offer.”



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The Covid years

Fowler chose West Coast Fever, about as far geographically from Jamaica as she could get, but a place that suits her relaxed lifestyle and love of the sun. Drehannah said, “I can tell that she’s happy here. To the world it might look like she has her game face on out on court, but I know when she’s happy and she’s excited to be playing.”

While Drehannah, Dorothy, and Fowler’s little brother, Devante, spent time in Perth in 2018, they had to head back to Jamaica, and endured a long standing separation when Covid hit. It was a brutal time for Fowler – not only were the WA borders shut and she had hubs to deal with, but flights home were impossible.

“It was really rough, and they were the hardest years for me,” Fowler reminisced. “Leaving my family for the first time to play netball was difficult, but Covid was far worse because there was so much going on, so much uncertainty. I was really nervous and anxious, just wanting to be where Drehannah was. I was stranded though, because there were no flights to Jamaica.

“That made it even harder to be away, because if there was anything happening I wanted to be by her side, and be together. I struggled with that.”

It was haunting to be torn between her loyalty and contractual obligations to Fever, and longing to be with her family, but Fowler dug deeply into her reserves to survive. She credits much of that inner strength to Dorothy, who instilled the quality in each of her three children. “You can be defeated if you aren’t in the right headspace, and my mother taught us to withstand obstacles with our mental strength. I try to stay in a healthy space, so knowing what I’m about gets me through.”

A close relationship with God was also one of Fowler’s lynchpins, and she spent a lot of time praying. “I have a strong faith,” she said. “I prayed that people would be okay, and that things would go back to normal. I asked God for guidance, and for the mental strength to withstand everything that was being thrown at me.

“While I believed that I was playing netball for a purpose, prayer helped me to stay focused and strong.”

Drehannah also worked hard to keep her mum’s spirits up, and said, “She was just a phone call or a text away, and I was so grateful for technology. I’d also make small videos and send them to her.” The pair continued to read bed-time books together over a video link, as they’d done for so many years.

Fever coach at the time, Stacey Marinkovich, also proved to be a lifesaver when she suggested a Jamaican home away from home. Interstate based players Shamera Sterling, Kadie-Ann Dehaney and Jodi-Ann Ward moved in with Fowler in Perth, enjoying a less onerous lockdown than in the Eastern States. Fowler said, “I jumped at Stacey’s offer, because I didn’t want to be alone. Having the girls there was amazing. We’d cook, dance, make TikToks and have fun together.”

Despite going through such a difficult period, Fowler’s performance never plateaued, as she continued to hone a game that is so close to perfection. In addition to height, she’s athletic, strong, and accurate, and has added movement and variety in the circle. Able to get her hands on almost any pass, she racked up 933 points last season at 96.7% accuracy, and so far in 2023, has missed just five goals. Her five consecutive league MVPs are a feat unlikely to be repeated.

Because of her stature, Fowler withstands a battering in the circle that would fell many other shooters. Never one to complain, it’s just the occasional eye-roll that gives away her discomfort. She said, “It is difficult at times, and my back tells me after every game that I was really copping it.

“I’m not overly taller than many of the other girls, so I reckon I should be treated equally with other shooters. But in saying that, I’m not going to shy away from the challenge, or that I’m expected to take the hits and still be strong.

“Mentally I can take it. I can withstand it, but I still want the umpires calls to be made where it’s necessary.”


Jhaniele Fowler sees the funny side of the height difference between herself and a semi-squatting Jodi-Ann Ward. Image Martin Poole/SpeedLite Photo


Home life

With the trio ensconced in Western Australian life, time outside netball is spent playing tourist, enjoying cooking, while Drehannah also attends high school. The Year 8 student said, “I’ve got a great group of friends, and I love sport – basketball is really fun. Being tall helps! I’m more of a defender, although my shooting is good.”

And with her mum in fits of laughter at a long standing mutual joke about long range shooting, she giggled, “I can also shoot MY fair amount of super shots!”

As a young foodie, Drehannah is happy she can get a good curry in Perth – coconut being the best – but misses some of the fruits from home. Her favourite breadfruit and ackee are plentiful there, but not on the shelves in Australia. Most of all, she misses her grandmother, with whom she lived for so many years. She said, “I know she’s fine, but it is weird not having her all the time.

“When we lived together, Mummy would be at training, we’d be home together, and we’d also have fun with my uncle as well. We really hope they can come back and spend some more time with us here.”

Fowler and her fiancé have no wedding plans as yet, wanting to have their ceremony at home in Jamaica with family and friends. Drehannah would be quite happy to hop on a plane for it, and for time at her favourite beach, Frenchman’s Cove. But despite the teenager’s groan of disappointment, that won’t be happening any time soon, according to Fowler. “Drehannah is in school, so we can’t just up and leave, but will have to do it within the school holidays.”

It’s a happy household – mother and daughter spend a lot of time laughing during our chat, and clearly share a close bond. Drehannah speaks fondly of a devoted mum who cares for the people around her, and sets an example through hard work and commitment.

The teen is also absorbing some important lessons from Fowler, who believes the two most important values to teach her daughter are confidence and kindness.

“Being confident makes a child such a force to be reckoned with, and being kind makes her a people person. Making sure that she’s looking out for others and not just for herself. I think it’s so important not to be selfish, and to be aware that others exist and that it’s good to lend a hand to those who are in need.”

With their nuclear family happily settled, Fowler has the season with Fever to get through, and hopefully push for another premiership, before she can turn her attention to the Netball World Cup.



Jhaniele Fowler regularly makes the impossible seem possible. (Image by: May Bailey | Netball Scoop)


The Sunshine Girls

Fowler has played for Jamaica since 2010, and now leads from the front as their captain. Success had been elusive – during the goal shooter’s time with the national team they achieved a bronze medal at the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games, but never stood on the podium at the Netball World Cup.

That all changed at the most recent Commonwealth Games, when Jamaica beat Australia during pool play, and went on to narrowly lose to them in the final, finishing with a silver medal. It was a remarkable achievement for a small island nation that struggles for resources, and the team have high hopes for this year’s Netball World Cup.

With six of their team members currently plying their trade in Australia, Fowler believes it has made a world of difference. “We’ve gained so much experience, and we’ve taken that back home. Then there’s also the work other team members have been doing back in Jamaica. Plus we’ve had the likes of Rob (Wright) who came and gave his insights, and of course Connie Francis who helped us push over the line. That’s why our last campaign was so successful.”

The significant pay differential between those back home in Jamaica, and the athletes in Australia, has the potential for friction. However Fowler said that while it is tough on everyone, the team make it work. “It’s difficult for them regardless of finance, but they know we are here playing and this is our job. They understand we are making the most of this opportunity.

“We are still very close, we still go out there and perform regardless, we are a team, and always stick together. We try and make it as equal as we can in terms of what the Jamaican Netball Association can give to us, making sure the girls at home are okay, and are being looked after as best as possible.”

Netball facilities in Jamaica are limited by funding, with the players doing their own performance analysis, and a voluntary strength and conditioning coach who can’t afford to travel with them. It’s difficult for the Sunshine Girls, but also motivates them to succeed. Fowler explained, “To be honest, and it’s sad to say, we lack in every area. It does get frustrating at times, because you want to be able to perform optimally.

“But it also does really motivate us. We have little to nothing in terms of resources and funding, so to be able to go out there and stand up to teams who are fully resourced, who have so much funding and backing behind them, and to be able to beat them – well, it makes us want to keep pushing.

“We make do with what we have. Imagine if we had even half of what these other teams have.

“I reckon we would be unstoppable.”


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Jhaniele and other Sunshine Girls celebrating their 2022 Commonwealth Games silver medal.


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Jhaniele Fowler (Sunshine Girls) defended by Phumza Maweni and Karla Pretorius (SPAR Proteas). Photo: May Bailey, taken during the Netball World Cup in Liverpool.



Jhaniele Fowler and Sasha Glasgow – Fowler shares a close bond with her Fever teammates. Image Clinton Bradbury/Bradbury Photography



Celebrating a milestone with Fever. Image: Clinton Bradbury/Bradbury Photography


Two of Jamaica’s finest – Shamera Sterling and Jhaniele Fowler are teammates at home, but come up against each other in Australia. Image Clinton Bradbury


Jhaniele Fowler shows her formidable elevation against South Africa at the Commonwealth Games in 2018. Image Marcela Massey



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About the Author:

Physiotherapist, writer and netball enthusiast. Feature articles, editorials and co-author of "Shine: the making of the Australian Netball Diamonds". Everyone has a story to tell, and I'm privileged to put some of them on paper. Thank you to the phenomenal athletes, coaches and people in the netball world who open a door to their lives, and let me tiptoe in.
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