Former Minnesota Golden Gophers track star and US Champion in the 3,000 meters Gabriele Grunewald died Tuesday evening at the age of 32. Grunewald had been very public with her battle with cancer for the past ten years with the hope that her transparency would inspire others to pursue their goals even amid personal struggles. Unfortunately her individual fight ended on Tuesday, but her goals and her wishes live on through the Brave Like Gabe Foundation.
Grunewald was a Perham, MN native and walked onto the Gophers in 2004 and competed on several Big Ten Champion teams. Her senior year in 2009, she was diagnosed with Adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC) after discovering a lump under her left ear, Cancer was detected in her salivary gland and it was determined she had a cancer that about 1,200 people are afflicted with each year. To show the type of fortitude that Gabe would have and show over the rest of her life, she infamously went out the day after she was diagnosed and ran a personal best in the 1,500 meters at a race at Arizona State, She would have surgery and radiation on the affected gland, and slowly returned to action the next fall. She got a waiver from the NCAA to run a sixth outdoor track season in 2010 and once again shows incredible fortitude to go on and earn All-American honors in finishing 2nd at the NCAA championships in the 1500m run.
After graduating from Minnesota, Gruenwald was diagnosed with cancer for a second time. This time in an unrelated form in her thyroid. Once again surgery and radiation could win the battle and Gabe was two for two.
She would go pro soon after that and in 2012 nearly qualified for the US Olympic team finishing fourth at the Olympic Trials in the 1,500-meters. She would peak in 2013 running her career best time at a meet in Monaco and then in 2014 would win the US Championship in the 1,500 meters and advanced to the World Championships where she finished in tenth place.
Grunewald would compete in the 2016 Olympic Trials first in the 5,000 meters. When she failed to advance to the finals, she entered the 1500 meters an hour later, in a last effort to make the team. She would finish in 12th place and not qualify. Later in 2016 her husband Justin, also a former Gopher and a doctor felt something hard on the right side of her abdomen. She went for a cat scan and it would end up that she competed in the 2016 Trials with a four-pound tumor in her liver. The ACC had returned and she was in her third battle. She had surgery that August to remove the tumor, and was thought to be cancer free. However in March 2017 several smaller, inoperable tumors were found on her liver.
Grunewald while undergoing chemo entered the 2017 US Championships. In 100 degree heat in Sacramento she would run what would end up being her final race and was surrounded by all her fellow competitors after the race.
She underwent several different treatments in 2018, but her disease continued to progress. She turned her attention to the Brave Like Gabe Foundation. As she put it herself:
My goal is to raise awareness for these diseases, the research funding disparities, and other challenges that prevent these cancers from having effective treatment options. Through Brave Like Gabe fundraising efforts, we will support research and accelerate treatments for rare cancer patients.
I also want to empower cancer survivors to move their bodies! There are so many benefits to incorporating physical activity in your life whether you are a cancer survivor or not, and I want to continue to encourage an active lifestyle for everyone.
Physical activity is a critical part of cancer prevention and is also a way for patients and survivors to ease treatment side effects, tolerate new therapies, and improve their mental health (1) . Brave Like Gabe aims to inspire and support everyone on their personal fitness journey.
I find the courage to keep running and racing through hope. Hope for a future treatment that might work for me and for others in similar situations. That hope comes from research. You could say I run on hope.
We run on hope. We run for research. We are not giving up. #BraveLikeGabe.
Gabe continued to fight, and her friends continued to honor her in various ways. This spring the University of Minnesota opened the brand new women’s locker room at their new track facility—named the Brave Like Gabe women’s locker room.
Her condition continued to worsen as the spring went on, and she was admitted to the hospital for the final time last week. On Sunday her husband Justin and the rest of her family placed her in comfort care, and then on Tuesday evening she passed away.
Tributes have been coming in from all over the world:
.@gg_runs embodied true determination, dedication and commitment in every facet of her life. She will be remembered as one of the bravest athletes we knew.— USATF (@usatf) June 12, 2019
Her legacy lives on as she inspired a world of people. #BraveLikeGabe pic.twitter.com/i27qrDkFoB
Thank you for showing us what it means to be #BraveLikeGabe.— Minnesota Cross Country, Track & Field (@GopherCCTF) June 10, 2019
We love you, @gg_runs & @JustinGrunewald! pic.twitter.com/EklIJ2zVaZ
Gabe Grunewald passed away tonight at age 32. She was a woman of remarkable strength, courage and passion. I wrote this about her life and her fight. #BraveLikeGabe https://t.co/myy6KUmxzV— Tim Layden (@SITimLayden) June 12, 2019
Each year, I hang photos/quotes in the locker room for the girls. This one will remain as long as I coach. @gg_runs and @JustinGrunewald, thank you for redefining the word 'Brave,' and bringing powerful perspective and truth to what 'Bravery' means. #BraveLikeGabe, Forever. pic.twitter.com/cIO1qWZtG2— Coach Prieboy (@PCHSGirlsXC) June 12, 2019
Grunewald fought this evil disease for the past ten years with more determination and drive then many people show in their entire lives. She should be a model for any person to follow when dealing with adversity in life.
If you can, consider a donation to the Brave Like Gabe Foundation so that hopefully, someday we won’t need to write articles like this again.