Image of Nerissa Maxwell and her son, Brendon Rodney
Recovering from surgery for a brain aneurysm, Nerissa Maxwell had to cancel plans to go to Rio but says she’s “so grateful” to have survived to see her son, Brendon Rodney, win a bronze medal in the 4 x 100 m relay at the Summer Olympics. (Photo: Courtesy Nerissa Maxwell)​

Nerissa Maxwell is tremendously proud her son won a bronze medal at the Summer Olympics.

But more than anything, she's just thankful she lived to see him compete for Canada in Rio.

"It's exciting," Nerissa, a UHN employee since 1989 who is nurse manager of 5B Fell at Toronto Western Hospital (TWH), says of the podium finish by son Brendon Rodney and his team in the men's 4 x 100m relay. "You look at it and say: 'Oh, my gosh.'

"And, I'm so grateful that I was here to see this. I'm very grateful to be alive."

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Last winter, having already booked her holidays to be able to be in Rio to cheer on Brendon if he secured his spot on Team Canada, Nerissa fell ill. She was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and underwent surgery. It was successful and she is on the long road to recovery, getting stronger daily.

While she wasn't well enough to make the trip earlier this month to Brazil to support Brendon as he competed in the 200 metres and the relay, Nerissa says, "I stayed home and cheered him on through the TV" and kept in touch with texts and phone calls before and after each of his races.

Canadian 4 x 100 m relay team show off medals
(L to R) Andre De Grasse, Brendon Rodney, Aaron Brown and Akeem Haynes show off their bronze medals on the podium after the men's 4 x 100 m relay at the Olympics in Rio. (Photo: Canadian Olympic Committee)

Before the Olympics, in a piece he wrote for CBC Sports, Brendon talked about the despair he felt when his sister called him at Long Island University, where he was completing his Masters degree and competing in NCAA track, to say mom was gravely ill. He rushed home to visit her prior to surgery.

He writes that the next day, after they learned that his prayers were answered and the surgery was a success, she told him even though she couldn't walk he could "run for both of us."

'Superwoman'

"Not only do I race for myself but I dedicate all of my races to my superwoman, to my mom, whose words are always 'good luck and I love you Bren'," he wrote in the piece for CBC. "These words stick with me. Even when I run, I remember the advice that she gives.

"I often sit back and think about all of the hardships that we have faced. Whether I win or lose, I will always give my best, and I am going to be happy because I still have my mother around."

Nerissa says even though Brendon endured bad asthma attacks as a child, it was while he was competing in high school track and field in Etobicoke that he first said he was going to be an Olympian. He punched his ticket to Rio in July when he won the Canadian Olympic trials by becoming just the second Canadian to ever run under 20 seconds in the 200 metres, defeating favourite Andre De Grasse and Aaron Brown, whose father, Ian Brown, is an ophthalmology technician at TWH.

"He always told me he was going to the Olympics. He said: 'Mommy, you have to believe me,''' she says with a laugh. "Who would believe it that a little asthmatic kid would grow up and be able to run so fast."

Brendon Rodney running in white uniform
Brendon Rodney, seen here at the Canadian Olympic Trials in Edmonton last month where he won the 200 metres, told his mom years ago that he was going to be an Olympian. (Photo: Athletics Canada/Claus Andersen)

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Age 24 and in his first Olympics, Brendon finished 21st in the 200 metres in Rio. But in the relay, along with Brown, De Grasse and Akeem Haynes, they broke the Canadian record on the way to an initial fourth place finish, which was upgraded to bronze after the Americans were disqualified.

The result in Rio avenged the result Brendon and his teammates endured at the Pan Am Games in Toronto last summer when they were disqualified for a lane violation after appearing to win gold.

Nerissa, who had watched that heartbreaking Pan Am race in person in Toronto, insisted on watching the relay final in Rio at home by herself, staying in touch by phone with her sister and mother. She said it was "a roller coaster" watching them run a flawless race but appear to come up just shy of the podium.

"We were so proud," she says. "The team came together so well despite the tremendous pressure and all those eyes on them, but you could see their disappointment, they expected more from themselves."

'You could see the relief on their faces'

Moments later, as Nerissa watched on TV thousands of kilometres away, "you could see the relief on their faces" when they learned they had secured the bronze medal after all.

"I told my sister, 'I can't jump. I'm not as well as you guys,'" Nerissa recalls of the moments immediately after the race. "She said, 'Don't worry, I did enough for everybody.'"

Nerissa connected by text with Brendon later that night saying what has become her mantra after every race: "You did well. I am proud of you." Her son responded: "Oh, thank you, mommy." They spoke the next day and re-lived the race, then finally saw each other last week when the team arrived in Toronto.

"I was so happy to see him," Nerissa said. "Whether he wins the race, he's always going to be my son.

Already eyeing Tokyo 2020

"For me, yes, the medal is the topping but whatever he does, there's always a place for him to come back to, and that's home."

With her health improving and her son seen as a key piece of the future in a dynamic young Canadian sprint team, Nerissa is already planning her holidays to attend the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

In the meantime, she'll continue cheering on Brendon – and counting her blessings.

"I'm glad, with the way family and friends supported me through my journey, I was able to be well enough to support him on his," Nerissa says. "I'm grateful every day."

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