By Evan Jager
June 12, 2019
It feels almost impossible to start a tribute for someone so emblematic of hope and bravery. I wanted to take the time to write something in honor of Gabe Grunewald, not as a close friend or family, but as a member of the greater running community. We are all a little bit braver because of Gabe.
Sometimes people say “don’t meet your heroes” because they will disappoint you. I can’t think of a more opposite thing to say about Gabe. In the few times that I was fortunate to have met Gabe, she was smiling and happy to be running even when she had so much going on behind the scenes. If you take a journey through Gabe’s cancer fight and her running career, it’s hard to comprehend how she made it happen. Time and time again, Gabe fought cancer to not just survive but to continue run at the biggest stages in our sport. Resilient and unwavering, she never gave up on her dream. Gabe is my hero.
I wrote a short Instagram post about a special moment in New York City this past March that I will forever hold closely in my heart. I was in Central Park and warming up for a tempo run that I was dreading. I ran into Gabe and her husband Justin around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. In the brief time we ran together, Gabe opened up about her trying a new treatment at Sloan-Kettering and how she had been lucky just to be able to run a bit. With the sun setting over the water and a chill in the air, we chatted like old friends. I’m positive this is the way she made everyone feel. She was unbelievably hopeful, even though she was in NYC to go to see a rare cancer specialist. This was Gabe. This was the only way she could be.
View this post on Instagram
Dear Gabe, I want to let you know how much you have inspired me as a runner and a person 💜 Your relentless fight and strength to do important work while continuing running and treatment has always left me in awe. Your courage to let us all in on your journey has spread your message so far. Personally, I was inspired to share my scar story and begin fundraising for @bostonchildrens again primarily based on your work fundraising for rare cancers. I built up my own courage to build upon my story to make me stronger. This day in NYC back in March will forever be special to me. I was supposed to be starting a tempo I wasn’t looking forward to and I ran into you guys @gigrunewald and @justingrunewald1 around the Jackie O res. My warmup doubled in time and I couldn’t peel myself away from your infectious energy. I had only met you one or two other times as a fan and she made me feel like we were old friends. My face is so squished in this photo from smiling so hard because you made me feel so special. I went off to my tempo and you went off to yet another fundraising event squished in between trips to Sloan Kettering. I will forever carry the #bravelikegabe spirit in my running career and life. The running community is so incredibly special and your are its heart and soul. I hope to be as relentless as you are always. I am forever team #bravelikegabe
Gabe shared her journey so openly on social media and through the countless events she participated or hosted to fundraise for rare cancer research. She started her own foundation, Brave Like Gabe, where donations go toward rare cancer research centers including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. I found myself thinking, how many times can a person be knocked down before they give up? For Gabe, there was no limit.
Personally, Gabe inspired me to share my own scar story. I vividly remember the season that Gabe came back to the starting line with a large scar across her stomach. I thought to myself, holy shit. That is badass.
When I left college and most female elite uniforms turned to crop tops, I wasn’t very confident to show my own long scar that vertically cuts through my stomach. I had a battle with ovarian cancer, but it feels insignificant and honestly inappropriate to compare to Gabe’s cancer journey. However, what I can relate to is the fear during the battle. Whenever the hospital doors open and that clinic smell wafts through the air, your stomach turns a little. Is the scan I’m getting today going to be good news or bad news? The fear of not knowing if you are in the clear or still a cancer patient is the worst part. If you know what is happening, you can fight and be brave. Gabe lived with that fear but she also lived in the fight. She taught us that giving up wasn’t an option. Hiding your scars isn’t an option. When Gabe bore her scar still pink from surgery, we saw the fight destroying the fear.
Maya Angelou once wrote, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
Gabe’s husband, Justin, wrote in a post the other day, “At the end of the day people won’t remember the PRs you ran or the teams qualified for but they will remember that hard period in their life where they were losing hope but they found inspiration in a young lady who refuses to give up”.
This is the runner version of my favorite Maya Angelou quote. We often get caught up in the times and the places and forget what really matters in this life. Gabe never forgot. I’ll never forget because of her.