By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — When Shani Oliveira is told youngest son Brady proudly calls himself a “momma’s boy,” she pauses before she responds.
Lifting her glasses, she wipes away a tear while talking about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers star running back who’s having an outstanding CFL season.
“That means the world. I’m going to start to cry now,” she said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press. “That’s what being a mom is, you always want to have that special bond with your kids and I’m very happy that I have that.”
Her pride in Brady is also felt by fans across Manitoba, who will be cheering when the Blue Bombers host the B.C. Lions in Saturday’s West Division final at IG Field.
Brady, 26, was born in Winnipeg and only started playing football at age 13 with the North Winnipeg Nomads. He was a star at Oak Park High School and the University of North Dakota before the Bombers selected him 14th overall in the 2019 CFL draft.
In his fourth season, and second as Winnipeg’s starting running back, he’s reached historic heights.
He led the CFL in rushing with 1,534 yards, the second-most in a season by a Canadian in league history, and had 13 touchdowns (nine rushing, four receiving). His 482 yards receiving was a career high.
Oliveira’s accomplishments earned him nods as the West Division finalist for the most outstanding player and top Canadian awards. He’s the first Winnipegger to be up for the MOP award.
He credits his mom for his success.
“I’m a total momma’s boy,” he said. “It’s just seeing how she raised me and my siblings and the trials and tribulations and the hardships that we went through growing up, and just seeing her be so strong through it all and having to take care of three kids.
“She did an incredible job and I just have the utmost love and respect for her. Even though it wasn’t easy, she got it done, so I owe everything to her. I’ll do anything for my mom.”
Oliveira’s father, Adail, had addiction problems that created instability for the family, which includes brother Kyle, 32, and sister Kallee, 24.
Sometimes their dad would be around, other times he’d disappear. It was up to Shani, who worked in retail, to provide for the family — emotionally and financially.
“Routine,” she said of how she tried to keep the kids out of trouble. “I would get them up and get them off to school. And then after school, there was always some sort of an activity.”
Those included soccer (Adail was a semi-professional soccer player in Brazil and kickboxer in Winnipeg) and Catechism classes. A support network of friends ensured the kids got to where they needed to go if their dad wasn’t around and she was working.
It was Brady’s soccer skills that led to him playing football. Nomads coach Ron Skorpad knocked on their door one day and asked Shani if Brady could attend a practice because a player was injured.
She didn’t know anything about football but let him go. He did some kicking and then got a chance to play receiver and running back.
It didn’t take long for Shani to see her son had talent and a passion for the game.
“He was dynamite,” she said. “Like, he can go. He just stomps on everybody. He’s like a little tornado.”
The sport also gave Brady a focus.
“He has a drive because he knew he didn’t want that as a life, as he saw his dad, so he wanted to make it bigger and better for himself,” said Shani, who’s now divorced and works at the jewelry counter of a local Winners store.
Her strong work ethic hit home with Brady and his siblings.
“I lived in the co-op (housing) and what I would do is go around the neighbourhood and put flyers in people’s mailboxes and then start cutting grass in the summertime and (do) snow removal in the wintertime,” Brady said.
He’d use the cash to pay for a cellphone and help his mother out.
“There were times you opened the fridge and there’s not a ton of food and I was able to have some extra money to go to the store and get some stuff for my family.”
Kyle, who competed in mixed martial arts and boxing, works in a Winnipeg group home and hopes to open his own one day, Shani said. Kallee got a soccer scholarship to the University of Winnipeg, majored in criminal justice and works at the Manitoba Law Courts.
Brady’s contact with his dad is off and on, and he’s fine with that.
“It’s more so wanting him to get better for himself first and then have a relationship,” he said.
He tries to use his experiences to help others. Coaches have asked him to talk to a player who might relate to what he’s gone through. He has also volunteered with a community patrol in lower-income areas.
“There’s been times when I was a kid that I could have definitely turned the negative into a negative, but I turned the negative into a positive and use it as fuel to my fire and use it as motivation to get to where I am today,” Brady said.
“So, it’s showing kids that, hey, don’t take that wrong turn. Take the right turn because I took the right turn. It’s very easy to point fingers and put blame and say, ‘You know, this is all I know and this is what I’m going to do.'”
Shani has seen Brady’s kindness, both publicly and privately.
He rescues dogs in remote locations through K9 Advocates Manitoba, a non-profit organization he volunteers for and where he met girlfriend Alex Blumberg two years ago.
Shani also remembers driving to watch him play at UND. After games, he’d ask her to stop the car if he saw a familiar man standing by traffic lights. Brady would give him some change or food from a restaurant they’d gone to.
“He’s just a special boy,” Shani said. “He has a huge heart and he’s always been a protector of mine.”
Brady has already paid for his mom to go to Hamilton so she can share his experience at the awards show during Grey Cup week.
“She’s a massive, massive, massive part in my success and where I am today,” he said. “So she’ll have a nice little vacay in Niagara Falls and whatever she wants to do, all that’s on my credit card.”