Gabriele Grunewald, former national distance champion, dies after decade-long battle with cancer

Rachel Blount, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Olympics

MINNEAPOLIS -- On the day she learned she had cancer, Gabriele Grunewald made a decision that would define the rest of her life. Though she had a track meet the following afternoon, her coaches with the Gophers told her she could sit out the 1,500 meters, thinking she might need time to process the devastating news.

She wouldn't hear of it. "It was important to me to run," Grunewald said. "It's important to do what you love when you have the opportunity to do it. This is what I love to do."

Grunewald, who died Tuesday evening at age 32 after a decade of fighting a rare cancer, awed her teammates with her courage that weekend. Her unwavering hopefulness would later inspire thousands more around the world. The Perham native kept right on running through three more bouts with the disease, forging a career as a professional athlete and U.S. champion while enduring surgeries, radiation treatments, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

Her death was announced on Instagram by her husband, Justin Grunewald.

After being near death earlier this month -- and announcing "not today" when Justin told her she was dying -- Gabe was readmitted to the intensive care unit at a Minneapolis hospital on June 4 with septic shock. She was given a new drug in the hope it would prolong her life.

Her liver function deteriorated early Sunday morning, and she was moved to comfort care. Monday, she was brought home to the couple's Minneapolis condo, where she died surrounded by family and close friends.


After she was diagnosed in 2009 with adenoid cystic carcinoma, Grunewald refused to let go of her goals as a runner. Her quiet perseverance became a model of how to live fully and fearlessly, even in the shadow of unimaginable hardship.

"She was one tough son-of-a-gun," said former Gophers cross-country coach Gary Wilson, who was at Grunewald's bedside Monday. "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."

Grunewald, who ran track and cross-country for the Gophers under her maiden name of Gabriele Anderson, was a fifth-year senior when she first learned she had cancer. Following surgery and radiation therapy, the former walk-on returned to competition and finished second in the 1,500 meters at the 2010 NCAA championships. She still holds the Gophers record in the 1,500, with a time of four minutes, 13.45 seconds.


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