Tennis: Elks’ Brandell came out swinging after tough start in life

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Life dealt Mitchel Brandell a wicked serve at birth 17 years ago.

A teen who gave up her baby for adoption probably was drinking excessively while pregnant, as the tot inherited a spate of medical issues.

“Doctors he’s seen have suspected that there was alcohol use during pregnancy, judging from problems he’s had,” said Kim Brandell, Mitchel’s adoptive father.

Mitchel Brandell

Mitchel endured the early adversity, and although some effects are lingering, he’s doing remarkably well. The Elk junior played in his fifth state tourney this past week and has 117 wins.

“It’s amazing how far Mitchel has come,” said Elk coach Randy Ronning, who started with him in second grade. “He was on about seven different medications then. He’s down to three or four. And he was really little before. Now he’s 6-foot-1 and has a really powerful serve.”

Mitchel’s afflictions included dystonia, a neurological disorder that  causes cramping; asthma; and, whenever it got cold, high fevers and viruses. His mother, Donna, took him to the pediatrician almost every Saturday for two years  for fevers up to 105 that could not be controlled by medication.

Still, the youngster was fiercely competitive. He played hockey from mites through squirts, never missing a practice or game. “He’d be on the ice with his nose bright red and sores all over his face,” said Kim, “playing as hard as he could.”

Mitchel remembers: “I really didn’t think about it much. It was just something I had to live with. I loved  hockey and I wanted to play.”

Kim and Donna took Mitchel and his sister Ali, also adopted, to the courts at Salk and hit balls for hours. Ali played in three state tournaments for the Elks and currently plays for College of St. Benedict’s.

Tennis won out as Mitchel’s main sport although he still plays a lot of pick-up hockey.

Mitchel’s health turned for the better at age 11 or 12, said Kim. He still takes meds for anxiety, dystonia, and cold sores. He has some trouble scholastically which his parents suspect stem from medical problems.

“I’m doing better now,” said Mitchel. “The teachers help me a lot.”

Mitchel’s birth mother was about 15, from southern Minnesota, said Kim. The Brandell’s did not stay in touch. Neither Mitchel or Ali have shown desire to meet their birth parents.

Kim and Donna are grateful that Mitchel is so driven for sports.

“Being involved in athlettics contributed to his physical stature now,” said Kim, “and being bigger and stronger makes it easier to battle some of these difficulties. Plus, not being as good a student as he would like, he looks to tennis as something for self esteem. Everybody wants to be good at something.”


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