Brave Like Gabe
“Do what you can with what you have.”
I struggled with confidence throughout my running career at Michigan State University and the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project, but these are words that have carried me.
They have carried me through bad weather workout days, a track race five days before my mom died, and the times I showed up to practice in crappy socks or sans sports bra.
Sometimes what I have is a bad night’s sleep, or a messy build-up going into a race. But I am enough. And I have enough in my arsenal to try.
The skills and resources I have are enough to make an impact.
My first two blog posts for Team Wicked Bonkproof are going profile some strong, amazing runners who did everything the could with what they had. These are runners who went far beyond themselves and their personal records.
Their impacts are the stuff of legends.
Do what you can with what you have.
Gabe Grunewald – a 4:01 1500m runner, USATF Indoor 3000m champion, and 10 year cancer survivor – expressed a similar sentiment: “Cancer has stopped me from being able to do some things, but I prefer to focus on what I can do.”
Gabe, who passed away from adenoid cystic carcinoma on June 11, packed more in her 32 years of life than most of us could pack into 100. She continued running professionally amid cancer treatments, and remains the 12th fastest American 1500m runner of all time.
She used her platform to raise awareness and funding for rare cancer research. She launched the Brave Like Gabe Foundation and Brave Like Gabe 5k, partnered with Chip and Joanna Gaines to create the Silo District Marathon, brandished a surgery scar at races, and so much more.
All of this was part of her quest to ruin each rare cancer’s future, while fighting for her own.
Gabe did what she could with what she had — and those actions gained momentum and multiplied. This woman’s efforts caused a ripple effect like I’ve never seen.
While I was with Hansons-Brooks, I was honored to share a shoe sponsor with Gabe. When the #BraveLikeGabe campaign launched in 2018, Brooks encouraged its athletes to participate in a social media initiative.
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Dear Gabe: . This is a photo of the bravest person I know. My mom died of cervical cancer on April 2, 2014. In true #bravelikegabe fashion, she never let cancer hold her back from what she loved: travel, praising God, and spending time with family. . I miss her every day. I was with her when she died, and I still stay up late some nights, hoping she'll come back. Maybe if there's a knock at the door at midnight, and I'm there to answer it, she'll be standing on the porch happy and alive. . She hasn't stood on the porch, Gabe. But you are still here, happy and alive. You are truly living. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for embracing life. Adenoid cystic carcinoma has met its match. . @bravelikegabe @gigrunewald
Gabe and I shared a brief but poignant exchange on Instagram, about losing my mom to cancer but finding hope in Gabe’s fight. I always told myself that if Gabe and crossed paths at a race, we’d have to grab coffee and talk.
I never found the words to tell her what her mission or her sense of agency means to me. I still can’t find those words. And I couldn’t believe I found myself praying in front of her casket last Monday, so close I could touch it. Without ever bringing her that coffee, or uncovering those words.
A friend and I drove from Michigan to Gabe’s Minnesota funeral, so we could pay our respects.
Strength, goodness, and joy beget strength, goodness, and joy. I could not believe how these qualities dominated the day – especially at Gabe’s memorial run and funeral reception.
Gabe’s best friend Ladia threw on a sequin jacket in the middle of her eulogy. “Gabe would be real annoyed,” she said, “if I didn’t put some levity and humor in this.”
She danced with Gabe’s sister Abigail before the memorial run. They gave hugs and high fives at the finish line, and we formed a tunnel for every finisher to zip through.
I could not believe, on such a tragic occasion, those closest to Gabe found the strength to unearth joy. Joy. At a funeral for someone who can never be replaced. That’s how Gabe was represented that day – through the strength, goodness, and joy of those who will love her forever.
And dear goodness, I hope God blesses everyone grieving Gabe beneath that joy. She didn’t care about legacy, but as long as strength, goodness, and joy persist – along with efforts to cure rare cancers – her legacy marches on.
Contributing to Something Bigger
Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes. So many streams and rivers and feed into bigger bodies of water in order to sustain them.
When Gabe left us, so many efforts mobilized to feed her mission.
Dr. Jacqueline Alnes – a creative writing professor, runner, and author – releases #tinyart on Instagram. These small square watercolor paintings include inspiring quotes, often from female athletes.
Art is one of Jacqueline’s many hobbies, and after Gabe’s death she released a new piece: 14.05 ways to be Brave Like Gabe.
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I didn’t know @gigrunewald personally, but I’ve been grieving pretty hard the past few days. I think it’s because Gabe had some magic quality that drew us all in; in the midst of what must have been her own darkest times, she made light. It’s difficult under any circumstance to be vulnerable and share the story of heartache, but Gabe —and @justingrunewald1 —invited us all in time and time again to share the hope and joy and heartbreak of their life. What a gift. I couldn’t focus on work this morning, so I journaled out a list of 14.05 ways I might carry Gabe’s light with me. It was both a way of grieving and a promise to myself that I’ll move forward a little braver. After writing, I thought maybe more of you would want to see, or add your own to the list. I’m lifting @abigailande, Justin, Gabe, and their family and friends up in love today and always, and marveling at the way Gabe is illuminating this world even after she’s physically left. ✨ #bravelikegabe
Copies of Jacqueline’s tiny art reached Gabe’s family, finding their way onto picture boards at the funeral. Someone suggested Jacqueline make prints of her Gabe art, and sell it to raise money for the Brave Like Gabe Foundation.
Jacqueline is in the process of making this a reality. What started as a hobby and desire to commemorate Gabe has transformed into something so much bigger.
A woman named Kelly launched a virtual race after Gabe’s death, raising over $2,000 for Brave Like Gabe. Kelly used her social media following to promote the #BraveLikeGabeVirtualRun.
Not to mention, Gabe’s supporters helped raise $2 million in seven days for Chip Gaines’ Chip in Challenge – a fundraiser for St. Jude and Brave Like Gabe which ended the day Gabe left this earth.
Small donations, hobbies, and social media posts rolled into something big, beautiful, and important. People used what they had to add some light to this world, thanks to one radiant young woman.
The rivers are flowing, as Gabe’s impact runs deep.
The Two Most Incredible Women I’ve Ever Known
I lost my mom to cancer in 2014. She scheduled her own MRI for Christmas morning, and got the results later that day. She traveled to Chicago and Ann Arbor for treatment. She researched coffee enemas and called other cancer survivors for advice.
Kristin Brender got things done. She did everything in her power.
Cancer came back for my mom twice until it took her. It came back for Gabe four times. As Ben Blair put it: “Gabe did not lose. And Cancer, specifically ACC (adenoid cystic carcinoma) did not win. Cancer had to come back four times to get Gabe. FOUR TIMES. That’s not winning. That’s 1 for 4.”
These two women – and the incredible goodwill of the running community – keep me #runningonhope. And as long as we’re fueled by goodness and hope, cancer cannot win.
We’ll keep doing what we can, with what we have. For them. For all those fighting battles we know nothing about. For each other.
And we’ll watch goodness attract goodness, and see the whole thing multiply.
Here’s to doing.
Today, June 25, is Gabe Grunewald’s birthday. It’s also Gabriele Grunewald Day in Minnesota, a new state holiday. If you’d like to make a donation, please visit https://bravelikegabe.org.