Saying “I know I will never be able to fill this gaping hole in my heart or fill the shoes you have left behind,” the husband of distance runner Gabriele “Gabe” Grunewald announced that she had died at home in Minneapolis early Tuesday evening after a long battle with a rare cancer.
Grunewald, 32, was first diagnosed in 2009 with adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC), which resulted in the removal of a salivary gland as well as a tumor. Two years later she underwent treatments for thyroid cancer, but she didn’t let that stop her from becoming an all-American for the University of Minnesota before going on to a successful professional career. Among Grunewald’s accomplishments were finishing fourth in the 1,500 meters at the 2012 Olympic trials and, in 2014, becoming the U.S. indoor champion in the 3,000.
Grunewald became an inspiration to cancer patients and fellow athletes, particularly as she opened up in recent years about her experiences. News that she had been moved to comfort care as her condition took a grave turn over the weekend prompted an outpouring of supportive messages from the running community.
Her husband, Justin Grunewald, said in an Instagram post that “Gabriele heard your messages and was so deeply moved.” He added, “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.”
The couple became friends with Chip and Joanna Gaines, the stars of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” when Chip became part of the running community and enlisted Gabriele Grunewald to help him train for a marathon.
“Gabe is my friend, and I miss her already,” he said in a statement to The Washington Post. “She inspired everyone she met during her life and even in death — as only she can do — she will continue to inspire. I’m going to run today in her honor. I’m going to be brave today in her honor. The things she taught me and my family about grace and perseverance, and about hope will live with us for the rest of our lives. I’m thankful to God for that chance encounter she and I shared nearly two years ago, I’m thankful for our friendship and I’m thankful for the time we had together. Rest in peace, my friend.”
On Instagram, Kara Goucher, an Olympic distance runner from Minnesota, wrote that her “heart breaks” for Justin Grunewald. “Thank you for sharing so much with us all,” Goucher wrote. “She will live on for us forever. And we are here for you and her family, for the long haul. She will never be far from you, but peacefully living in heaven.”
Middle distance runner Sara Hall echoed that: “Yes, you will see her again, for eternity together. Grace to you and the family during this time of loss. The whole running community is praying for you and behind you.”
In his post, Justin Grunewald thanked Gaines for leading a fundraising campaign to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and his wife’s foundation, Brave Like Gabe. Contributions to his “Chip-In Challenge” have topped $2 million, Gaines said on Twitter.
Gabe Grunewald’s last post to her Instagram account came May 4, when she shared a photo of herself in a hospital bed and said she would need a procedure for an infection. She expressed disappointment at not being able to participate in her foundation’s 5K race, held in St. Paul, Minn., to raise funds to combat ACC.
“It’s not lost on me that maybe this is one of the most poignant ways to show just how critical research is,” she wrote at the time. " . . . But I’m gonna be brave and fight these fevers and hopefully the procedure will help me out big time. Prayers very much welcome."
According to her foundation’s website, Grunewald had approximately 50 percent of her liver removed in 2016 after a recurrence of ACC, and a scan in 2017 showed small tumors on her liver. Still, she continued to run, with the long scar snaking across her abdomen. “My scars,” she said then, “teach me to embrace life.” She told Health last year that her “dream” was “to go back to one more Olympic trials in 2020″ and that she wanted “to leave the sport on my terms, not on cancer’s terms.”
Justin Grunewald announced last week that his wife was being returned to an intensive care unit because of septic shock. He followed that with news that her condition had “worsened with worsening liver function causing confusion” and that she was being moved to comfort care.
“Gabe, your light will forever guide us,” her longtime sponsor, Brooks Running, said in a post after her death.
Justin shared an image of her resting on their couch at home Monday, lying beneath a framed saying: “There are only two ways to live your life. One as though nothing is a miracle, the other as though everything is a miracle.”