Emotional messages of support and love poured in from fellow runners as decorated American middle-distance runner Gabriele Grunewald was moved to comfort care Sunday, then to her home Monday. The messages came at the behest of her husband, who asked supporters who had followed her long fight with cancer to post “one last message” using the #bravelikegabe hashtag.
“Thank you for showing me what bravery looks like,” American marathoner Kara Goucher tweeted. Paula Radcliffe, the world marathon record holder, thanked Grunewald for the lives she enriched with her “bravery, heart and smile.” Deena Kastor, the 2006 London Marathon winner, tweeted, “wishing you peace and wings you so deserve.” Kastor wrote to Grunewald’s husband, Justin, that "thousands of people are grateful for your own courage and are sending you love. Feel it overflowing in your big, big heart.”
Known as Gabe, Grunewald, 32, was diagnosed in 2009 with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of cancer that usually originates in the salivary glands. She underwent surgery and radiation treatment and continued to run for the University of Minnesota, finishing second in the 1,500 meters at the 2010 NCAA championships. She kept up the pace through 2017 even as she underwent treatment for cancer in her thyroid and liver. She finished fourth in the 1,500 at the 2012 Olympic trials and was the U.S. indoor champion in the 3,000 in 2014.
Last week, the Minnesota native was hospitalized in intensive care because of septic shock. Justin sought to prepare her for dying, only to have her respond with a robust “not today” as she rallied and left the ICU. Although she was given a new drug in an attempt to extend her life, her husband, an internal medicine physician who also ran for the Gophers, wrote on Instagram on Sunday that her condition had deteriorated.
“It breaks my heart to say but overnight Gabriele’s status worsened with worsening liver function causing confusion,” Justin wrote. “Wanting to do her no harm we have made the difficult decision to move her to [comfort care] this afternoon. I wanted to let you all know while she is still alive so you can send her one last message here or on her wall or on her phone before she heads up to heaven.”
Justin also shared a note he had written to his wife a couple of years ago.
“I know you have been given the heaviest of tasks in life. The task of being brave despite feeling enormous amounts of fear,” he had written. “The task of smiling when your throat wells up with pain and eyes want to fill with tears, but I don’t think you were chosen by random chance, and again I know that’s not fair but you are so amazing at being you and that’s why I feel bravelikegabe is so special. Because there isn’t a word in the dictionary for what you do or who you are. 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 PRs 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.”
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