June 11, 2019
Today, the running world got a little less bright.
Gabe Grunewald, the professional runner who inspired thousands by spreading a message of bravery, positivity, and hope as she battled a rare form of cancer, died on Tuesday night at her home in Minneapolis, according to her husband, Justin. She was 32 years old.
Grunewald (née Anderson) was first diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC) in April 2009, while still an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, but returned the following year to finish second at the NCAA championships in the 1500 meters and make her first US outdoor final. Later that year, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, but managed to come back from that well and carve out a professional career with Brooks.
During the ensuing years, Grunewald developed into one of the top middle-distance runners in the country. She finished fourth in a loaded 1500 meters at the 2012 Olympic Trials — the three women who finished ahead of her in that race were the reigning Diamond League champion (Morgan Uceny), reigning world champion (Jenny Simpson) and future American record holder (Shannon Rowbury). In 2013, she ran a personal best of 4:01.48, good for #11 on the all-time US list (it’s now #12 in US history); the following year, she won her only national title, defeating Rowbury and Jordan Hasay to win the 3,000 meters at USA Indoors (Grunewald was controversially disqualified for clipping Hasay before ultimately being reinstated as champion). She made every US outdoor 1500 final from 2010 through 2016.
Sadly, Grunewald’s ACC came back in 2016, forcing doctors to remove a four-pound tumor from her liver and leaving a large 13-inch scar on her abdomen. Then, in March 2017, her ACC came back again, a PET scan revealing a set of small tumors on her liver. This time, surgery was not an option: the tumors were too numerous. That meant Grunewald had to seek treatment, and for ACC, a cancer with no cure, there were limited options available.
Yet Grunewald would not let this diagnosis stand in the way of pursuing her passions. That season, she set herself a goal of running the 1500 at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships. Even as her condition worsened and she was forced to undergo chemotherapy, she continued to train and race. The week before USAs, Grunewald was hospitalized with a fever, but Grunewald made it to Sacramento and accomplished her goal of running at USAs, where, in a touching moment, her fellow competitors joined her in a prayer circle following her preliminary heat.
During this time, Grunewald served as the public face of adenoid cystic carcinoma, spreading awareness of her disease and establishing the Brave Like Gabe Foundation to raise money for rare cancer research. In 2018, inspired by Grunewald’s story, HGTV personality Chip Gaines established the Silo District Marathon in Waco, Tex.; over the past two years, the race has raised over $500,000 for the Brave Like Gabe Foundation.
Grunewald also set an example for anyone struggling with adversity in life. She was dealt a rotten hand, yes, but did not let that stand in the way of living life to the fullest. She ran, because she is a runner and that is what she enjoyed doing, and she wasn’t going to allow cancer to change that. And she kept smiling, because that is what she had always done. She wasn’t going to allow cancer to change that, either.
Grunewald continued to fight to the very end of her life. On June 1, Grunewald’s condition grew so dire that her husband, Justin, a doctor, decided it was time to tell her that she was dying; Justin wrote on Instagram that her lactate and pH levels were “incompatible with life.” Yet when met with this news, Gabe took a deep breath, channeled her inner Arya Stark, and yelled, “NOT TODAY!”
Somehow, she made it through the night. Her levels normalized. June 2 was, Justin wrote, the best day of his life.
“Talking to all my doctor colleagues they have never seen another patient survive similar circumstances,” Justin wrote. “It can only be explained as divine intervention or miracle.”
In the time since that day, Gabe’s condition worsened as her liver began to shut down. On Tuesday, over 10 years after she was first diagnosed with ACC, Gabe Grunewald died.
It is a sad day in the running community, an inspirational and universally-beloved individual cut down in the prime of her life by a brutal disease that does not discriminate. The world was a better place with Gabe Grunewald in it.
Grunewald’s impact will be felt beyond this day and beyond running. Her athletic accomplishments were impressive, a career to be proud of despite its premature ending. But what will resonate is her courage, her bravery, her attitude, her grace. People talk of making the best of a bad situation. Nobody embodied that more than Gabe and her husband Justin, who always supported her, loved her, treasured every moment with her. She chose to live life to the fullest, no matter how challenging it became.
That message, more than anything else, is the enduring legacy of Gabe Grunewald.
“It wasn’t easy,” she said in a documentary Brooks produced following her 2017 season, “but I tried my best and I was able to do so many things that I would have not done had I just given up my life when it was hard. So I guess my message is that it’s ok to struggle but it’s not ok to give up on yourself or your dreams.”
If you want to laugh, cry, and be inspired, watch this. https://t.co/05HMMyftQK
— Gordie Taylor (@gordietaylor) August 22, 2017
View this post on Instagram
At 7:52 I said “I can’t wait until I get to see you again” to my hero, my best friend, my inspiration, my wife. @gigrunewald I always felt like the Robin to your Batman and I know I will never be able to fill this gaping hole in my heart or fill the shoes you have left behind. Your family loves you dearly as do your friends. When @chipgaines made the final push in his #chipinchallenge I could feel your happiness building and could also see that this made you ready to head up to heaven. Chip thanks for helping her to go up so peacefully with no suffering. To everyone else from all ends of the earth, Gabriele heard your messages and was so deeply moved. She wants you to stay brave and keep all the hope in the world. Thanks for helping keep her brave in her time of need 😪🙏🏻 #keeprunningonhope #bravelikegabe 📸 @pixelcrave 📷 @kohjiro_kinno
Post your remembrances here: MB: The world has lost a bright light: Rest in Peace Gabe Grunewald.
LRC coverage of Gabe Grunewald through the years
LRC 2012 US Olympic Trials Gabriele Anderson Reinstated and Put in Final: “She’s in. There is a god in track and field after all.” That’s the quote from Anderson’s fiancee Justin Grunewald. Video of the rightfully reversed DQ is here. Thread on DQ here.
LRC 2014 USA Indoors Women’s 3,000: Gabe Grunewald Blows Away The Field Over The Last Lap And Wins Her First US National Championship – Or Does She? – Status Of Alberto Salazar’s DQ Protest Still Unknown
LRC 2014 USA Indoors The Inside Story Of Gabriele Grunewald’s DQ – Insider Access, False Promises And A Violation Of USATF’s Own Rules?
LRC 2014 USA Indoors Women’s 3,000 Resolution: Gabriele Grunewald Reinstated As USATF Champion
LRC 2017 USA Outdoors 800/1500 Recap: Donavan Brazier Almost Blows It Again, Drew Hunter Makes His First Final, Alysia Montaño and Gabe Grunewald Inspire
LRC August 2017 WTW: Gabe Grunewald Keeps Inspiring Us, Shalane Flanagan Gets Upgraded and Why Wasn’t Dawit Seyaum at Worlds?
LRC June 2019 Gabe Grunewald Nearly Died on Saturday: “It Can Only Be Explained As Divine Intervention Or Miracle”