Gabriele “Gabe” Grunewald is an elite professional runner with her heart set on the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. Like many athletes, she’s had to overcome enormous challenges throughout her career, but her biggest challenge she’s now facing isn’t on the track but is stage IV cancer – adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare cancer of the salivary glands. For most people it can control their life, but for Grunewald, she doesn’t let it stop her from doing what she loves most - running.
Grunewald started running in middle school. She tried other sports but found that running was best for her; running became her passion. Since then, she has accomplished amazing goals including winning a track and field state title in the 800 meters in high school, becoming an NCAA All-American, placing fourth in the 2012 USA Olympic Trials, and winning a USA Championship title in the indoor 3,000 meters in 2014. She also has a contract with Brooks. During this time, Grunewald also dealt with four cancer diagnosis in eight years. But she has not given up and wants to improve her skills even more and does not let it get in the way of her running goals.
Youth Runner had an opportunity to speak with Grunewald and wanted to share her story to help remind young runners to never give up on their hopes and dreams, and to keep pushing for what they want.
How did you first get started into running?
I played in a lot of different sports when I was younger, and I followed my friend group into trying out cross country when I was in middle school. I really loved running right from the start! I enjoyed all the time I was able to spend outside with practice in both cross country and track and I felt very determined to improve from each race. I ended up sticking with cross country, basketball, and track as my three sports throughout high school but I'm glad I was able to try so many to find out which ones suited me best.
At what point in your running did you realize you can run Pro, and make a career out of this sport?
It wasn't until the very end of college that I felt like I might be able to make it as a professional in running. I had a burst of improvement in my final season and I remember the whirlwind of signing a contract with a shoe company (Brooks) and finding a professional coach. I was lucky how things worked out! Running professionally was a big dream of mine but it didn't come together until the last minute.
What steps in your running life have you taken to accomplish your goals? What keeps you so motivated and positive?
I try my best to listen to my body and some days that means training 'smarter' instead of harder. It took a lot of years to get to know myself enough to understand the objective of different workouts and how to balance all the different demands of training. I have tried to become a student of the sport and always keep learning about methods to improve. I've worked with different professionals to help me get the best out of myself and I found that having a mental strength coach can be very helpful. I'm always working on confidence and a positive mindset -- that helps me in all areas of my life!
I am motivated to do my best and having a positive attitude makes training and racing so much more fun. Even when I have a tough day or a hard race, I try to find the positive in it and learn from it. As a cancer survivor, I'm motivated to do my best with my health situation and to inspire others to not give up their dreams in the midst of adversity. All of us are battling something in life and it's important that we encourage each other to keep going on our journeys and to do our best.
What makes you want to keep pushing ahead - persevere and to never give up on your goals? What would you tell young runners that also face challenges with life?
I am very grateful for the health I have had over the years -- especially as a cancer survivor and patient. My health challenges have helped me to live in the present moment and to really focus on the important things in my life, one of those is running. Despite all the ups and downs with my cancer, I am grateful for being a runner and simply having the ability to run. I also have been lucky to have a lot of support on my journey and I try to share my story with others to give back and hopefully give other people hope.
Tell us about your foundation: Brave Like Gabe? How can young runners, like my readers, help make a difference?
I have worked to launch the Brave Like Gabe Foundation this year as a way to support rare cancer research and empower all cancer survivors through physical activity -- that is our mission. Those are two aspects of my story that I am passionate about and I hope our fundraising efforts can make a difference for rare cancer patients like me. I also believe that every cancer patient or survivor can find a benefit from staying physically active throughout their treatment and beyond. We are working to inspire others on their journeys. Young runners can support us through social media and take part in some of our fundraising campaigns if they are interested. We appreciate anyone helping to improve awareness for these causes!
Cancer makes her life difficult, but Grunewald likes to keep a positive attitude and keep her spirits high. She advices young runners to always have hope, no matter what they may have to face in life. She leaves runners with, “Believe in yourself! It is a powerful thing to truly believe in your dreams.”