news 6 days ago

Runner Gabe Grunewald dies after decade-long battle with cancer

Star Tribune — Rachel Blount Star Tribune

June 11--

On the day she learned she had cancer, Gabriele Grunewald made a decision that would define the rest of her life. Though she had a track meet the following afternoon, her coaches with the Gophers told her she could sit out the 1,500 meters, thinking she might need time to process the devastating news.

She wouldn’t hear of it. “It was important to me to run,” Grunewald said. “It’s important to do what you love when you have the opportunity to do it. This is what I love to do.”

Grunewald, who died Tuesday evening after a decade of fighting multiple cancers, awed her teammates with her courage that weekend. Her unwavering hopefulness would continue to inspire thousands more around the world during her brief life. The Perham native kept right on running through three more bouts with the disease, forging a career as a professional athlete and U.S. champion while enduring surgeries, radiation treatments, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

Her death was announced on Instagram by her husband, Justin Grunewald. After being near death earlier this month -- and announcing “not today” when Justin told her she was dying -- Gabe, 32, was readmitted to the intensive care unit at a Minneapolis hospital last Tuesday with septic shock. She was given a new drug in the hope it would prolong her life.

Her liver function deteriorated early Sunday morning, and she was moved to comfort care.

Justin Grunewald, a doctor and former Gophers distance runner, posted a tribute to his wife on Instagram praising her fortitude and zeal for life. “There isn’t a word in the dictionary for what you do or who you are,” he wrote. “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 [personal records] 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.”

Gabe Grunewald, who ran track and cross-country for the Gophers under her maiden name of Gabriele Anderson, was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma as a fifth-year senior in 2009. Following surgery and radiation therapy, the former walk-on returned to competition and finished second in the 1,500 meters at the 2010 NCAA championships. She still holds the Gophers record in the 1,500, with a time of four minutes, 13.45 seconds.

The cancer returned in Grunewald’s thyroid and liver, with recurrences in 2010, 2016 and 2017. Even as she underwent many more surgeries and treatments, she excelled in her professional running career. She finished fourth in the 1,500 at the 2012 Olympic trials, missing the team for the London Summer Games by one spot.

In 2014, Grunewald won the U.S. indoor championship in the 3,000. She represented the U.S. at that year’s world championships, finishing 10th.

Her personal-best time of 4:01.48 in the 1,500 is the 12th-fastest ever by an American woman.

Following her initial diagnosis, Grunewald said she was not wasting time worrying about the future. “I’ve come to terms with the reality of what might happen,” she said. “But I’ve also been able to take a step back and appreciate what I have. I want to live each day really enthusiastically and gratefully, just as anyone would.”

Her joyfulness in the shadow of cancer would become a lifeline for herself and a gift to others. Grunewald shared her struggles and triumphs publicly, helping others find their own courage. She began the “Brave Like Gabe” foundation to raise money to research rare cancers; via its website and her social media accounts, which reached 77,000 followers, she also sought to give hope to fellow patients.

When Justin Grunewald announced Sunday that she had entered end-of-life care, tributes poured forth on social media. HGTV star Chip Gaines, whom Gabe Grunewald trained for his first marathon, wrote “All I ever want is to be #bravelikegabe.” Olympic distance runner Kara Goucher, a Duluth native, wrote “Thank you for showing me what bravery looks like, and for being such a constant source of inspiration.”

Grunewald’s final racing season came in 2017, when she ran the 1,500 at the U.S. championships while undergoing chemotherapy. She hoped to run the Brave Like Gabe 5k fundraiser around St. Paul’s Como Lake in May but was sidelined by an infection.

Despite 10 years of uncertainty, hospitalizations and setbacks, Grunewald never lost her optimism. In a post on the Brave Like Gabe website, she told supporters she still hoped to try for a spot on the 2020 Olympic team.

She didn’t know whether she would be able to outrun cancer, but it wasn’t going to stop her from moving forward.

“I believe that continuing to pursue my goals on the track has helped me to carry on with purpose in my life in the face of an uncertain future,” Grunewald wrote. “Being brave, for me, means not giving up on the things that make me feel alive.’’

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