Brendon Rodney is fast.
It’s what the Olympic champion is known for. Since he turned pro in 2016, the world has been watching the Canadian sprinter. Just this summer, he made headlines for winning gold as part of the 4×100 metre relay team at the World Athletic Championships.
A few years ago, something happened that brought his life to a standstill. Just months before Rodney was set to race at the 2016 Olympics for the first time, he was on the phone with his mom, Nerissa, who told him she was going out to shovel the snow from her icy Toronto sidewalk. The next day, he didn’t hear from her.
When the track star got the news, he was away at school and training for the NCAA nationals. His mother had suffered a severe headache and was rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital with a brain aneurysm.
Rodney says he didn’t immediately understand what was happening or how serious it was. He dropped everything and called his mom. She had trouble communicating, but she made one thing clear: she wanted him to stay put. She didn’t want him to jeopardize his training by visiting her.
Sometimes you go into hospitals and the staff aren’t the most pleasant. They don’t allow you to interact, or they’re unwilling to get you information,” Rodney says. “I didn’t have any of those problems.
“She was basically like ‘no, don’t come, I’ll be alright,’ but she wasn’t,” he says. The doctors told Rodney he should go home to see her. He didn’t hesitate. He got on a plane, and stayed in Toronto for three days ahead of her surgery. Though he missed training in the lead-up to a national championship, he had to be with her.
Rodney, whose mom is a nurse, spent a lot of time around hospitals when he was growing up. It was difficult to see her as a patient rather than a health-care provider. Despite the strangeness and stress of the situation, Rodney says the hospital’s staff made everything easier. “They helped my mom and our family feel really comfortable,” he says.
“It was just me just trying to be there for my mom. To be around her and support her like she’s supported me.”
Rodney and his mom are close. She was always his biggest cheerleader. Even as she was going into surgery, she kept insisting he should get back to training, telling him she’d be alright. As he left the hospital and got back on a plane, all he could think about was his mom. “She wants me to go run, but she may not make it,” he says.
She made it through the surgery, and Rodney returned to Toronto not long afterwards to support her through the rehab that followed. Today, she’s back to her old self, and she and Rodney are just as close. She’s even babysitting her grandson while he’s travelling for work. It keeps her young.
“Sometimes you go into hospitals and the staff aren’t the most welcoming, they aren’t the most pleasant. They don’t allow you to interact, or they’re unwilling to get you information,” he says. “I didn’t have any of those problems.”
Rodney stresses the importance of keeping family members in the loop about their loved ones, and allowing for interaction whenever possible.
“Family members want to be filled in on what’s going on, what they can do and how they can help.”
As for his mother, Nerissa? “I couldn’t be more grateful to the health teams who stayed by my side,” she says. “St. Michael’s went above and beyond to bring me back to health, and to make me feel heard and human when I was at my most vulnerable.”
Brendon Rodney is fast.