Gabriele Grunewald, who became one of the country’s top middle-distance runners all the while battling cancer, died Tuesday night at her home in Minneapolis. She was 32.
“At 7:52 I said ‘I can’t wait until I get to see you again’ to my hero, my best friend, my inspiration, my wife,” Grunewald’s husband, Justin, wrote on Instagram announcing her death. “I always felt like the Robin to your Batman and I know I will never be able to fill this gaping hole in my heart or fill the shoes you have left behind. Your family loves you dearly as do your friends.”
Grunewald, a national champion and Olympic hopeful, was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare salivary gland cancer, in 2009 and thyroid cancer in 2010, according to her website. Her adenoid cystic carcinoma returned in 2016 and 2017.
Yet despite her diagnoses, Grunewald persevered.
After walking on to the University of Minnesota cross country and track & field teams in 2004, she became an NCAA track & field All-American and finished second in the 1,500 meters at the 2010 NCAA championships. She underwent surgery and radiation prior to her runner-up finish.
Grunewald’s accolades continued after college into her professional career.
In 2012, she finished fourth in the USA Olympic Trials. Two years later, she was the U.S. indoor 3,000 champion.
Her personal best time in the 1500-meters is 4:01.48, which made her the 11th fastest performer in American history, according to her website.
When her cancer resurfaced in 2017 and she was in between rounds of treatment, she didn’t let it stop her from competing in the 1,500 at the U.S. track and field championships.
In addition to her career accomplishments, Grunewald created her own foundation to raise awareness of and benefit research for rare forms of cancer. She had previously posted about her battle on social media, but she used Brave Like Gabe, a nod to her nickname, to encourage others who were fighting cancer to share their own stories.
Grunewald dreamed of reaching the 2020 Olympics. She said that while running had become more of a challenge and she wasn’t able to maintain the consistent and intense training necessary to become one of the best runners in the world, she wasn’t giving up.