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MEET GABE

Pro runner. Cancer patient. Relentless Optimist.

 
 
 

Gabriele “Gabe” Grunewald (née Anderson) is a professional American middle-distance runner and lifelong Minnesotan, born and raised in Perham, MN (population 2,985).

She won a single track & field state title in the 800-meters competing for Perham High School. Gabriele walked-on to the University of Minnesota cross country and track & field teams in 2004, where she was a part of several Big Ten Championship squads and eventually became an NCAA track & field All-American with a runner-up finish in the 1500-meters in 2010, her final collegiate race.

Gabriele has run professionally for Brooks since 2010.


Her career highlights include a 4th-place finish in the 2012 USA Olympic Trials and a USA Championship title in the indoor 3000-meters in 2014. Her personal best in the 1500-meters is 4:01.48, making her the 11th fastest performer in USA history.

Gabriele has survived multiple bouts with cancer. Initially diagnosed with a rare salivary gland cancer, adenoid cystic carcinoma, in 2009, and thyroid cancer in 2010. She experienced recurrences of adenoid cystic carcinoma in 2016 and 2017.

Under the guidance of coach Dennis Barker, Gabriele aims to return to elite competition in 2018 and ultimately has her sights set on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. She lives and trains along the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis with her husband, Justin.

 
 

Why did you continue running through each diagnosis and treatment? 

 
 
 Gabriele after hepatectomy surgery

Gabriele after hepatectomy surgery

Throughout each new diagnosis and treatment, I have made the choice to run and train when my body allows. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has always been the right decision for me.

From the very first day I was told I had cancer in 2009, I knew running would be a big part of my journey back to health. It has truly been my refuge; when everything else seems to be going wrong and the outcomes are far beyond my control, I can find perspective and hope on the run.

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.

 

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. 

It has become more and more of a challenge over the past two years (since my recurrence) to maintain the consistency and intensity of training required to be one of the best runners in the world, but I’m not giving up on my dream of taking one more shot at the Olympics in 2020!

Being brave, for me, means not giving up on the things that make me feel alive.

— Gabriele Grunewald, Founder

 
 
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Diagnosis & Treatment


Round 1

Initial diagnosis

APRIL 2009

At age 22, Gabriele was initially diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma after the discovery of a small tumor on her parotid gland.

One day after her diagnosis, Gabriele runs a personal best on the track in the 1500-meters. Gabriele’s track season ends and she undergoes a parotidectomy to remove the affected salivary gland and tumor.

From May-July 2009, Gabriele was treated with post-surgery radiation therapy. In September, she slowly starts training again, gaining a waiver from the NCAA to run a sixth outdoor track season in 2010. She goes on to have one of her best seasons ever, setting a school record and getting 2nd at the NCAA championships in the 1500m run.

Round 2

A new cancer

OCTOBER 2010

In a routine follow-up image for the initial cancer, Gabriele’s doctors discovered papillary thyroid cancer. She was treated for the thyroid cancer with a thyroidectomy and neck dissection to remove affected lymph nodes.

In December 2011, Gabriele finishes her thyroid cancer protocol with radioactive iodine treatment.

In 2012, Gabriele has a whirlwind year, finishing fourth in the 1500-meters, one spot from qualifying for the London Olympics. 

After setting a new personal best in the 1500-meters in July 2013, Gabe wins her first national title in 2014 in 3000-meters at the US Indoor National Championships. The win qualifies her for the World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland.

Round 3

ACC recurrence

JULY 2016

Gabriele competes in two events at the USA Olympic Trials, the 5000-meters and the 1500-meters, but has a disappointing meet and fails to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

In August 2016, Gabriele’s husband, Justin, gives her side hug and notices a firmness in her abdomen. Later that evening at the ER a CT scan shows a large mass on Gabriele’s liver. About a week later it is confirmed to be a metastatic recurrence of adenoid cystic carcinoma.

Later that month, Gabriele has about 50% of her liver removed, along with the tumor, in a right hepatectomy surgery. She is believed to be cancer-free after the surgery.

Round 4

Still fighting

MARCH 2017

A follow-up CT scan shows small tumors in Gabriele’s liver. In June, she begins treatment with chemotherapy (cisplatin and vinorelbine) and competes at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

In July she starts new treatment—an immunotherapy clinical trial (nivolumab and ipilimumab) at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

An October CT scan shows tumor progression so Gabriele’s oncologist adds a liver-directed radiation therapy (radioembolization), TheraSpheres, to her treatment plan. 

A CT scan in January 2018 shows shrinkage of her tumors after the TheraSphere treatment. She starts up on immunotherapy (nivolumab) again.

Why did you want to start your foundation?

 
 
 

Founding Brave Like Gabe is my way to give back to the communities who have generously and enthusiastically supported me on this challenging professional-runner-battling-cancer journey.

I would love to live in a world where rare cancer patients have more treatment options and ultimately, cures. And if I can’t live in that world, I want to help it become a possibility for future patients.

I remember feeling devastated when I realized how little research had been done on my cancer and the fact that there were not any FDA-approved treatments for my disease—I don’t want any patient to feel that way; that they’re alone in their fight or that the medical research community doesn’t care about their cancer.

My goal is to raise awareness for these diseases, the research funding disparities, and other challenges that prevent these cancers from having effective treatment options. Through Brave Like Gabe fundraising efforts, we will support research and accelerate treatments for rare cancer patients.

I also want to empower cancer survivors to move their bodies! There are so many benefits to incorporating physical activity in your life whether you are a cancer survivor or not, and I want to continue to encourage an active lifestyle for everyone.

Physical activity is a critical part of cancer prevention and is also a way for patients and survivors to ease treatment side effects, tolerate new therapies, and improve their mental health (1) . Brave Like Gabe aims to inspire and support everyone on their personal fitness journey.

I find the courage to keep running and racing through hope. Hope for a future treatment that might work for me and for others in similar situations. That hope comes from research. You could say I run on hope.

We run on hope. We run for research. We are not giving up. #BraveLikeGabe.

— Gabriele Grunewald

 
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Scholarly Resources.

 
 

“There is substantial evidence that higher levels of physical activity are linked to lower risks of several cancers.” (1)

“Too much rest can lead to loss of body function, muscle weakness, and reduced range of motion. So today, many cancer care teams are urging their patients to be as physically active as possible during cancer treatment. Many people are learning about the advantages of being physically active after treatment, too.” (4)

“Research indicates that physical activity may have beneficial effects for several aspects of cancer survivorship--specifically, weight gain, quality of life, cancer recurrence or progression, and prognosis (likelihood of survival). Most of the evidence for the potential benefits of physical activity in cancer survivors comes from people diagnosed with breast, prostate, or colorectal cancer.” (2a, 2b)

 

Ways Exercise Can Help

  • Keep or improve your physical abilities (how well you can use your body to do things)

  • Improve balance, lower risk of falls and broken bones

  • Keep muscles from wasting due to inactivity

  • Lower the risk of heart disease

  • Lessen the risk of osteoporosis (weak bones that are more likely to break)

  • Improve blood flow to your legs and lower the risk of blood clots

  • Make you less dependent on others for help with normal activities of daily living

  • Improve your self-esteem

  • Lower the risk of being anxious and depressed

  • Lessen nausea

  • Improve your ability to keep social contacts

  • Lessen symptoms of tiredness (fatigue)

  • Help you control your weight

  • Improve your quality of life


  1. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global PerspectiveExit Disclaimer. Washington DC: AICR, 2007.

  2. a. Speck RM, Courneya KS, Masse LC, Duval S, Schmitz KH.  An update of controlled physical activity trials in cancer survivors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Cancer Survivorship 2010; 4(2):87-100.
    b. Rock CL, Doyle C, Demark-Wahnefried W, et al. Nutrition and physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 2012; 62(4):243-274.

  3. Grisham J. What are the benefits of exercising during and after cancer treatment? Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, January 2, 2014.

  4. Survivorship during and after treatment. American Cancer Society, March 24, 2014

  5. Physical Activity and Cancer. National Cancer Institute, January 27, 2017.