Coach saves high school tennis player after allergic reaction

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As many remarkable moments go, it started innocently enough, in this case with a bite of a cookie. An oatmeal raisin cookie, no less. From Costco.

Can’t get more suburban or pedestrian than that.

Anant Mundra, San Ramon Valley
Photo courtesy of Brent Bowen Photography
Anant Mundra, San Ramon Valley
The bite was taken by San Ramon Valley (Danville, Calif.) freshman tennis player Anant Mundra on Monday and what transpired from that point has people around campus still talking and inspired.

“Insane,” said San Ramon Valley sophomore Noah Rosenthal, the team’s No. 5 singles player. “I can’t believe he persevered through that.”

Mundra, 15, is highly allergic to any form of nuts and as soon as he bit into the cookie, about 30 minutes before his team’s home match with California (San Ramon), he knew something wasn’t right.

First-year San Ramon Valley coach Frank Haswell, 66, who has coached the SRV girls the last eight years, had team moms lay out a snack spread before the match, including the dreaded cookie.

“I always liked oatmeal raisin cookies, so I just took a bite,” Mundra said. “As soon as I swallowed I knew I ate a nut. We looked at the label and saw ‘walnut.'”

Not that Mundra needed the confirmation. His throat tightened immediately and he started to feel dizzy — the same symptoms he felt two other times in his life when accidentally consumed a form of nut.

But well-informed and equipped, the 5-foot-6, 120-pounder had his EpiPen (epinephrine) auto-injector and pills to deal with a possible life-threatening episode. The only problem is Mundra, like most, isn’t a big needle fan and self-injections are difficult. He tried a couple times without success so Mundra and team members went to Haswell, a former Army medic, who was air-blowing the courts.

Haswell stuck Mundra directly in the thigh and within 15 minutes, after a call to Mundra’s parents, all was calm and under control. Perhaps too much so.

Mundra, also a straight-A student, wanted to keep his perfect 9-0 East Bay Athletic League record intact and didn’t want to put the Wolves at risk of an upset loss. He told Haswell he wanted to play.

“We had a lengthy discussion,” Haswell said. “He wanted to at least try. His sister was on site and she called their mom. She was at work but got there by the end of the first set. Everyone was on board.”

But clearly Mundra wasn’t 100 percent. A baseliner with strong strokes, long points and games — normally a tactic for the supremely fit Mundra — backfired. He lost the first set to Austin Fan, 6-4.

“You could see he wasn’t right,” Haswell said. “He was bending over a lot. His skin was blotchy. He looked weak in the knees.”

Said Mundra: “I felt better when I took the shot, but during the match I was shaking. I could barely breathe.”

Haswell approached Mundra a half-dozen times throughout, supplied water and Gatorade and made sure he could continue. His teammates kept a close eye as well.

Noah Rosenthal, SRV singles player
Screenshot by Mitch Stephens
Noah Rosenthal, SRV singles player
“I was playing right next to him,” Rosenthal said. “His arms and face were swollen. His back was itching. I told him ‘You should just stop,’ and he said, ‘I’m not going to stop. I’m going to persevere through this and I’m going to win.’ “

And Mundra did.

He won the next set, 6-4, and because San Ramon Valley had the team result secured, Mundra and Fan played to a 10-point tiebreaker to secure the individual match. Mundra won 10-6 to keep his perfect season alive.

“His determination was remarkable,” Haswell said. “You could see he lost a little of his mobility. But he adjusted. He used his intelligence and did what he had to do.”

When Mundra reached the bench, he said he partially lost his vision.

“It was blurry and I saw streaks of white. My legs were shaking. I had no control over my body. It was pretty scary,” he said.

Scary enough that his family took him to emergency room at San Ramon Regional Medical Center. There he got properly hydrated and after almost three hours he went home, slept well and got ready for another day — another match.

On Tuesday, he defeated Andy Francis of Foothill (Pleasanton, Calif.), 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 to improve to 11-0 in EBAL play.

So what did all parties learn from Monday’s events?

“On the positive, I learned my son is very competitive in tennis — that at any cost, even his own health, he’ll take risks for the good of his team,” said Anant’s father Chandra Mundra, a business developer with Cisco. “On the negative, I would never want him to do it again. It’s not worth it.”

Said Anant: “I should be more careful in what I eat and be more grateful for what I have.”

Said Rosenthal: “I think he showed you should never give up, that you can win no matter the circumstance. … I knew already he was a really good tennis player. But I found out just how hardcore he is.”

Rosenthal’s father Michael, on hand for Tuesday’s match with Foothill, put it this way: “Many of history’s bravest deeds weren’t the smartest thing. They were done out of love and passion. Anant is definitely passionate about his tennis.”

And much more grateful for Haswell, who was a medic in the Army from 1966-69. Haswell said he has administered numerous shots before Monday. He said he wasn’t nervous needling Anant and was just happy to be of service.

“When I got home that night I told my wife it wasn’t an average day by any means,” Haswell said. “She said it was good I had that training.”

Perhaps fateful.

“I always liked coach Frank even before Monday,” Anant said. “Now I have an even greater respect for him.”

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