This year has been full of challenges, setbacks, and has been extremely difficult for everyone. While cancelled races and other athletic events aren’t the worst of the hardships we are currently facing, as an athlete it can be tough to keep training and stay motivated with no races on the calendar for the foreseeable future. It can be easy to lose sight of why we run, bike, swim, or train during these hard times as events are continuing to be cancelled due to the pandemic, but if there is anything Gabe Grunewald taught us it’s to not give up when a situation gets tough.
Gabe Grunewald was a professional runner who finished fourth in the 2012 USA Olympic Trials and earned a U.S. championship title for the 3000m in 2014. In addition, Gabe’s personal record in the 1500m, 4.01.48, makes her the 11th fastest woman in the USA! During her running career, Gabe was diagnosed with rare cancer, adenoid cystic carcinoma.
Adenoid cystic carcinoma is a rare salivary gland cancer that has no FDA-approved treatment options and very little research has been done to find possible cures. Gabe started the Brave Like Gabe foundation to raise awareness for other rare cancers like hers and to increase funding for research and treatment for rare cancer patients.
Gabe fought rare cancer four times for over 10 years and continued to run throughout her treatment. She first was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma in her salivary gland in 2009 as a senior in college running for the University of Minnesota. The next day she ran her personal best in the 1500m and began defying the odds set against her. After undergoing radiation and treatment, cancer returned to her thyroid in 2010. This time the cancer was “curable” and Gabe didn’t let it stop her. She ran to and from her treatments and slowly began to recover, her life returning to “normal” for a few years. She continued with her running career and began training to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. She attempted to qualify for the USA team but fell just seconds short.
She began to wonder why her fitness was not co-operating with her goals. Then, a trip to the hospital revealed that her cancer had returned, this time in her liver. Gabe underwent hepatectomy surgery to remove a four-pound tumor that left her with a 13-inch scar across her abdomen. After recovering from her surgery, she began training again, but the cancer returned in 2017 in the form of smaller inoperable tumors. Gabe ran through chemo treatments and even competed and earned a spot in the 2017 June track and field championships.
It was around this time that she began the Brave Like Gabe foundation to raise awareness for others in similar situations.
She began using #bravelikegabe to raise awareness for her foundation and created a 5K run as a fundraiser for the organization. Gabe’s dedication to the organization enabled it to grow and inspire others as she shared her story while continuing to undergo treatment for her cancer. The tumors grew minimally, and in 2019 Gabe began radiation treatment, however the lack of research limited her options. Gabe had hoped to participate in the 2020 Olympic Trials, but her conditions began to worsen in May. Gabe continued to fight cancer relentlessly, but after weeks in the ICU, Gabe passed away on June 11, 2019.
Gabe found the courage to keep running and racing through hope. Hope for future treatment options for rare cancer patients and one day, a cure. Gabe ran on hope and now we can run on hope too in order to continue her legacy and in her honor.
I had the opportunity to be part of the 2020 Brave Like Gabe team for the Grandma’s half-marathon in June to honor Gabe and others who are fighting cancer. While the event did become a virtual race due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was honored to have the opportunity to raise money for rare cancer research, share Gabe’s story, and “run on hope” to inspire others like Gabe did. It definitely wasn’t the way I had expected the race to be, but Gabe taught everyone that “the best way to deal with short-term and long-term uncertainty is to live as best as you can one day at a time.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic brings more than its share of uncertainty to our world, we can all follow Gabe’s example to keep running on hope and “make something beautiful and powerful out of a really bad situation.”