Grunewald learned for the first time that she was sick in 2009, while she was a good runner, but not yet transcendent, at the University of Minnesota. She found a lump in her left ear, underwent a biopsy, and then, strangely, received the bad news by a phone call. The diagnosis was adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare cancer that, she learned from Google, probably gave her five years to live.
We all live with a death sentence. But we do not have such a short answer, just before a race, when we are only 22 years old. Grunewald took it with grace. As she would say later interviewsshe realized that she had only three things to do with the time she had left: spending time with the people she loved, running as well as she could and trying to help her heal from his illness.
She achieved the first two goals with dignity from another world. She married Justin Grunewald, an elite distance runner and soon a doctor. Every day, they ran together, sometimes in absolute silence, rejoicing because they were together and alive. And she started to reach another level of racing, even though she managed her treatments. The day after her first diagnosis, she set the fastest time of her best event, the 1500 meters. In 2010, she came second in the NCAAs, the same year she received her second cancer diagnosis, this time in her thyroid. The following year, she ranked third in the country at the indoor championships. And then, in 2012, she missed a qualification for the Olympics.
The mark of five years after her diagnosis arrived in 2014 and she was still flying: winning a national title and a place in the world team that year. But after seven years, the bell rang. One day, after a race, Justin hugged her and noticed a lump. The cancer had migrated to his liver. The surgery followed; it's at that point that she acquired the scar.
"Running is one of the most human sports, it's just you and your body against other people or against the clock."
It was his third goal – to help research on rare diseases – which mattered the most. She did not hide the scar because she wanted people to know what she had gone through. She also wanted to help scientists fight rare cancers that hit so many people. "Scars", she said, "Are a testimony of power and survival." She started Brave Like Gabe Foundation raise funds for research and help cancer survivors lead active lives. In a poignant interview, in 2018, she said The Morning Shakeout podcast, "This is not how I would have chosen my life, but maybe it's my way to achieve the goal of my life and try to raise awareness of these rare diseases that I I really need it. "
I should reveal here that his life was more than a little inspiring for me. I, too, had a struggle that resembled and differed profoundly from his: a diagnosis of cancer that occurred after running a fast marathon, a fight, a scar. I'm through now but I stay run and train largely because it reminds me that I am alive. Sometimes I go back to the months that followed my treatments and the moments when I felt like I could hardly walk and I remember how good it is to be able to run.
Grunewald continued to run and run also after the operation. She wanted a chance to compete in the 2020 Olympic Trials. But this spring, she took a turn for the worse. Her friends, the world of running and everyone she followed followed, as well as Justin's posts on Instagram, hoping to avoid being able to defeat the disease once more. "Prayers welcome," she wrote in May
Running is one of the most human sports. It's just you and your body against other people or against the clock. The best ones do this until their bodies become free, either because of their age or injuries. The rest of us does it best: get in shape, find relief from other stress in life, be outside in the air of the mountains. Grunewald did it for herself, but also for so many others. As she said in an interview last fall, "I would have never raised my hand for that, but someone must do it." Gabe Grunewald died Tuesday at the age of 32.