Distance runner dead at 32 after long cancer battle
A decorated distance runner who captured hearts with her inspiring fight against a rare form of cancer has died “peacefully with no suffering,” her husband announced.
Gabriele Grunewald, 32, died late Tuesday, a decade after being diagnosed with an aggressive salivary gland cancer — adenoid cystic carcinoma — in 2009 while running track and cross-country at the University of Minnesota. A year later, after her final collegiate race, the All-American received treatments for thyroid cancer, but continued to run, going on to finish fourth in the 2012 USA Olympic Trials and becoming the US indoor champ at 3,000 meters in 2014.
Grunewald then had recurrences of adenoid cystic carcinoma in 2016 and 2017, prompting doctors to remove half of her liver along with a tumor initially discovered by her husband, Justin, who is a physician.
Grunewald’s condition then took a drastic turn after being readmitted to an intensive care unit at a Minneapolis hospital last week due to septic shock that led to declining liver function. The four-time cancer survivor was then moved to comfort care at the couple’s home in Minneapolis, where she was “sleeping and lying comfortably” on a couch, Justin Grunewald told The Post on Monday.
“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,” Justin Grunewald wrote in a touching Instagram post late Tuesday with a picture of him running alongside his wife, known to many as simply Gabe. “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.”
Grunewald also thanked “Fixer Upper” star Chip Gaines for spearheading a fundraising campaign that matched donations to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and his wife’s Brave Like Gabe foundation, which seeks to raise awareness of rare cancers and encourage physical activity in cancer survivors with its “BraveLikeGabe” hashtag on social media.
“I could feel your happiness building and could also see that this made you ready to head up to heaven,” Justin Grunewald’s Instagram post continued. “Chip, thanks for helping her to go up so peacefully and with no suffering. To everyone else from all ends of the earth, Gabriele heard your messages and was so deeply moved. She wants you to stay brave and keep all the hope in the world.”
Grunewald met Gaines after approaching him during a chance encounter while running with her husband in Central Park during one of her trips to New York, where she received treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Women’s Running reports.
In her final Instagram post last month, a smiling Grunewald held a cup as she sat in a hospital bed after being admitted with an infection. She vowed to press on despite not being able to partake in a 5K race in Minnesota to benefit her foundation, saying it was the “literally the worst timing” ever. But Grunewald still had her sights set on ultimately competing in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“It’s not lost on me that maybe this is one of the most poignant ways to show just how critical research is,” Grunewald wrote on May 4. “Cancer is nothing if not incredibly inconvenient and we need more options.”
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