Gabe Grunewald inspired millions with her public battle with cancer and determination to continue running.
The running community was shaken on Tuesday night when Gabriele Grunewald, a professional middle-distance runner, died after a decade-long battle with cancer. She was 32 years old.
Her cancer battles captivated the attention of the running community and beyond because of both her strength and courage and her commitment to returning to competition despite chemotherapy and other setbacks in her treatment. After Grunewald's condition took a turn for the worse throughout the weekend, her husband, Justin, shared on Sunday that the decision was made to forego any further treatment and bring Grunewald home to spend her final days with friends and family.
The Perham, Minn. native was first diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma (a rare form of cancer in her salivary gland) as a 22-year-old while competing for the University of Minnesota in 2009. She underwent surgery to remove it but cancer returned in her thyroid in 2010. She underwent a thyroidectomy and radioactive iodine treatment before making a full recovery and return to racing in 2011.
In Aug. 2016, doctors discovered a metastatic recurrence of Grunewald's adenoid cystic carcinoma in her liver and she underwent surgery to remove the growth. Despite being left with a 13-inch scar on her stomach, Grunewald's cancer returned as small tumors in her liver and was untreatable through surgery. While consulting with doctors in Minneapolis and New York, Grunewald scheduled races and began chemotherapy once again. Grunwald's most recent cancer battle was also profiled by Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden in July 2017.
Grunewald nearly made a return to competition in the fall of 2018 but medical setbacks scratched those plans. She remained active in the running community with appearances at meets, speaking engagements and the launch of the Brave Like Gabe Foundation, where donations go toward rare cancer research centers including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
She was rushed to the ICU on June 1, 2019, after her labs showed "values incompatible with life" but made a miraculous recovery once treatment was stopped. Grunewald was able to spend 10 more days with her family and friends before her passing. In an Instagram post on Sunday afternoon, Justin shared the following letter to his wife while asking her friends, family and supporters to share any last messages with her:
"Brave flails in comparison to what you are to me and to so many people out there facing the simplest and silliest of struggles in day to day life At the end of the day people won't remember the PRs run or the teams qualified for but they will remember that hard period in their life where they were losing hope but they found inspiration in a young lady who refuses to give up. I love you"
In the hours before Grunewald's death on Tuesday evening, friend and HGTV star Chip Gaines, who has run for the Brave Like Gabe foundation before, pledged to not only match donations for his" Chip In for St. Jude Children’s" challenge fundraiser, but also to send matching donations Grunewald's Brave Like Gabe foundation.
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More than 10 years ago, my friend @gigrunewald was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer. I understand that Gabe is not a patient at @StJude, but right now, she is fighting for her life. Cancer is ugly and it is mean and it doesn’t fight fair. This has gotten extremely personal.. so here’s what I’m going to do about it: I want us to hit that $500K mark by midnight tonight. So I will be personally matching all #ChipInChallenge donations made between now and midnight. ON TOP OF THAT, I'll also be matching that amount in the form of a donation to the #BraveLikeGabe Foundation, in Gabe's honor. That is 3x the power of your generosity in the fight against cancer.. and all YOU need to do is donate whatever you can to the #ChipInChallenge (link in bio) between now and midnight CT. I’ll take care of the rest. Together, we’re going to fight for those who are fighting for just one more day. This is for those precious kids at St. Jude.. we are pulling for you! And to my beautiful friend Gabe.. we love you and we are here for you every step of the way.
Gaines was just one of the hundreds of people to pay tribute to Grunewald.
I knew @gg_runs for less than 2 years, but those weren’t an ordinary 2 years. Time for her was more like jet fuel, and she burned through every drop. I’m going to go on a long jog today in honor of you gabe! and I promise, til we meet again.. to be Brave! #BraveLikeGabe— Chip Gaines (@chipgaines) June 12, 2019
Courage. Grace. Bravery...It lives on when good people teach us these winning virtues. Tonight, the running community lost a hero in @gg_runs due to a rare cancer, yet her gifts live on. Donate to keep her strong voice running. 🏃🏻♀️ #bravelikeGabe https://t.co/d8UgWJRahI— Deena Kastor (@DeenaKastor) June 12, 2019
I didn’t know @gg_runs we’ll, but in all times that our paths crossed in the track world I never saw her exude anything but beaming positivity.— Drew Wartenburg (@Drew_Wartenburg) June 12, 2019
I’m glad Gabe has found peace, and my heart goes out to @JustinGrunewald, @dbinsaintpaul and those left with the void leaves behind.
Ran an hour along the waterways of Stockholm this morning, every mile thinking, “David Torrence & Gabe Grunewald would have loved this run.” I miss them. I try to honor their memory & friendship by taking a moment to appreciate the gift of another day, another run.#runningonhope pic.twitter.com/JnXh86ldOg— Nick Symmonds (@NickSymmonds) June 12, 2019