Gabriele Grunewald, a walk-on runner for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, became an Olympic-caliber track star.
But Grunewald, who died on Tuesday at age 32 after a courageous 10-year battle with cancer, leaves a legacy far beyond athletics as an advocate for cancer research and an example of how to lead a life.
Despite enduring several surgeries and tough treatment for multiple cancers, the Perham native excelled at multiple distances. She missed the U.S. Olympic team by just one spot in 2012, and she still holds the 1,500-meter record for the Gophers.
“She was a tough son-of-a-gun,” Gary Wilson, Grunewald’s former cross-country coach at the U, told the Star Tribune’s Rachel Blount. “Gabe was a fighter from the get-go. She gave people something we all need: hope. That’s her legacy.
“Thousands of lives will be saved because of what Gabe has done. She showed people they can fight, they can have hope, they can do it. She was amazing.”
Indeed, Grunewald gave hope by living an inspirational public life, including chronicling her journey on social media. And she fought to extend others’ lives through her Brave Like Gabe foundation, which raises money for rare cancers including adenoid cystic carcinoma, the salivary-gland cancer that first afflicted her.
Last year’s inaugural Brave Like Gabe 5K race, ran on a beautiful day in St. Paul’s Como Park, raised over $109,000. More profoundly, it raised the spirits of every runner, especially the scores of cancer survivors who Grunewald gracefully embraced and posed with for photos.
Grunewald was too ill to run this year’s race. She no doubt missed connecting directly with those who were inspired by her racing and her strength.
“Running has truly been my refuge,” Grunewald wrote on the Brave Like Gabe website last year. She added: “Being brave, for me, means not giving up on the things that make me feel alive.”
Grunewald made many feel brave, and alive, during her remarkable sprint through life.