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Olympic Hopeful Gabriele Grunewald Dies At 32 After Cancer Battle

The national champion runner had chronicled her battle with metastatic cancer while inspiring others.

Gabriele “Gabe” Grunewald, a national champion runner and Olympic hopeful who publicly chronicled her battle with metastatic cancer on social media while giving hope to others, died on Tuesday. She was 32.

Her death was announced by her husband, Justin Grunewald, in an Instagram post on Tuesday evening. It followed several days of posts that documented her incredible resiliency even when her lab results indicated on June 2 that she was “incompatible with life,” he said.

“Shortly after I told her she was dying she took a deep breath and yelled ‘NOT TODAY,’” he recalled her response. She died nine days later.

“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,” he wrote on Tuesday, after announcing the news.

Gabriele Grunewald was studying and running at the University of Minnesota in 2009 when she was first diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in her salivary gland, called adenoid cystic carcinoma. One year later she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

She defiantly continued running, however, throughout chemotherapy, surgery and other treatments. Along the way, she shared personal photos and insight into her experience on social media. Her inspiring momentum led to the slogan “Brave Like Gabe.”

The day after receiving her first cancer diagnosis, she ran what was then her fastest 1,500-meter time of 4 minutes, 13.45 seconds. It remains the university’s 1,500-meter record, Minnesota’s Star Tribune reported. 

Gabriele Grunewald runs in the women's 1500 meters at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in June 2017.
Gabriele Grunewald runs in the women's 1500 meters at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in June 2017.

In 2010, she finished second in the NCAA championships’ 1,500-meter race. Then in 2012, she finished fourth at the Olympic trials’ 1,500-meter race, failing to qualify by one spot.

She didn’t stop here. In 2013 she scored a new personal best time in the 1,500-meter race at the IAAF Diamond League in Monaco of 4 minutes, 1.48 seconds. 

She also married Justin Grunewald that year, who’s a fellow runner she met in college.

“I was slightly nuts,” she once told The New York Times of that time in her life. “I kept telling him, ‘I don’t want you to stay with me just because this is a sad story!’”

Gabriele Grunewald is seen with her husband, Justin, at the IAAF Athletics Awards in Monaco in 2017.
Gabriele Grunewald is seen with her husband, Justin, at the IAAF Athletics Awards in Monaco in 2017.

A year after this she earned a USA Championship title in the indoor 3,000-meters.

“She was one tough son-of-a-gun,” her former University of Minnesota Gophers cross-country coach Gary Wilson, told Minnesota’s Star Tribune. “Gabe was a fighter from the get-go. She gave people something we all need: hope. That’s her legacy.”

Her cancer returned in 2016 and she underwent surgery to remove 50% of her liver, leaving her with a large scar across her abdomen. Despite this, she continued to run, with her sights set on competing in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Grunewald credited her daily runs for giving her mental boosts, goals and “purpose in my life in the face of an uncertain future,” she said in a statement shared on the website of her foundation, “Brave Like Gabe.”

Her foundation’s mission aims to support rare cancer research and empower cancer survivors through physical activity.

“Throughout each new diagnosis and treatment, I have made the choice to run and train when my body allows. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has always been the right decision for me,” she said. “Being brave, for me, means not giving up on the things that make me feel alive.”

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