American middle-distance runner and Olympic hopeful Gabriele Grunewald died on Tuesday after a decade-long battle with cancer. She was 32.
Grunewald suffered a lengthy yet public battle with a rare form of metastatic cancer, which she was first diagnosed with in 2009. Her husband, Justin, confirmed the news in a touching Instagram post on Tuesday night.
“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 wrote on Instagram. “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 was first diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma in 2009, a rare form of cancer in her salivary gland. The disease spread to her thyroid the next year and later to her liver. She eventually had a 4-pound tumor removed from her liver, which left a 13-inch scar across her abdomen.
Throughout it all, though, she kept competing. The former Minnesota standout finished second in the 1,500 meters at the 2010 NCAA national championships and still holds the Gophers’ record in the event, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Grunewald fell just short of qualifying for the 2012 Olympics in the 1,500 meters. She won the 3,000 meters at the U.S. indoor championship just two years later, and had recently set her sights on qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“When she had half her liver taken out, I saw her in the hospital the next day,” former Minnesota coach Gary Wilson, who visited her on Monday, told the Star Tribune. “I didn’t even ask her if she was going to run again. It was just a given.”
Grunewald was very open about her battles with cancer, and developed a large social media following while documenting her treatments and training. She also started “Brave Like Gabe,” an organization that raises money for cancer research.
“I believe that continuing to pursue my goals on the track has helped me to carry on with purpose in my life in the face of an uncertain future,” Grunewald wrote in a statement on the Brave Like Gabe website. “The mental boost I get from my daily run has become so important to me and is something I wish I could share with every cancer survivor ... Being brave, for me, means not giving up on the things that make me feel alive.”
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