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Always brave, always inspirational, always Gabe

Gabrielle Grunewald may have finally succumbed to the cancer she courageously batted for a decade. But her memory, inspiration and foundation will carry on indefinitely.

That’s fitting for Gabe, as everyone knew her, and appropriate for her husband, Justin.

“She taught me so many things,” he says. “The most important thing she taught me was how to live and how to love. To never look too far into the future and to take life one day at a time. I’ll continue to live this way every day until I see her again.”

The running community lost Gabe on June 11. She had battled adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare cancer of the salivary glands, since she was a senior at the University of Minnesota where the couple met. Even while fighting cancer, she emerged as one of the top middle-distance runners in the United States, inspiring a generation of runners to redefine their bravery.

Her Brave Like Gabe Foundation will carry on her message of motivation. The foundation’s mission is simple: “Support rare cancer research and empower cancer survivors through physical activity.”

As Gabe’s health worsened, tributes from teammates, runners, supporters and others poured in through social media. To this day, Justin is overwhelmed and appreciative of the support.

“Honestly their support gave Gabriele great comfort and happiness with so many amazing messages,” he says. “Their support was humbling to me. We always knew we were up against a tough battle facing her cancer but the love of everyone around her always made that battle so much easier. People can continue their support by spreading word about the foundation and if they have the means donating to the foundation. Even if people just donate a dollar a month, it adds up exponentially over time. She doesn’t want people to have to do what we did. The only way around it is finding more effective treatments and ultimately cures for these diseases.”

How can people support the foundation? Justin points to a few simple ways: “By spreading the word of the foundation. Donating if you have the means. Living bravely with hope. Helping those around you who are struggling.

On the run

Justin caught my attention when he won his first ultra he finished, the Afton 50K in Minnesota. This coming weekend, he will take on his first 50-miler at the North Face Endurance Challenge Series in Wisconsin and will also do the Marin Headlands 50-miler later this year.

In his grief, he has kept up with his trail running and winning ways. He was in Europe for the Monaco Diamond League race, which held an “amazing tribute” to Gabriele as Siffan Hassan broke the women’s world record in the one-mile.

“While over there I decided to try to get in some training in the Austrian Alps and found a race that went up over one of the mountains and back down the other side,” he says of the Silvretta 3000, which started in a town called Ischgl. “The people, race, and organization were all amazing. The views were beautiful. I hope to do it again next year.”

An FKT for Gabe

Also next year, he wants to do some FKTs, possibly the Superior Hiking Trail. Recently he supported Ladia Albertson-Junkans, Gabriele’s best friend, as she claimed an FKT on the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood.

“I just was fortunate to support Ladia on the Timberline Trail, which was incredible,” he says. “She has been my trail inspiration since the first time I set foot on a trail so it was really special to get to help her in that journey. Doing it she also raised a bunch of money for the foundation which is incredible.”

Ladia ran her first Western States this past summer. Gabe was there in spirit with Ladia.

“I think she probably texted me a bunch of emojis, rainbows, hearts, and all sorts of faces,” Justin recalls. “She ran so bravely out there it gave me butterflies. If she ever does it again, I’ll be there, and I think she will. She really embodied Gabriele out there. We often hear about the winners of those races and the course record holders. I’d rather hear about Ladia’s journey and what she pushed through to get to the finish line.”

The foundation’s future

Justin has returned to work at a large hospital, Abbott Northwestern, in downtown Minneapolis. But he plans to cut back to 75 percent due to managing the foundation, which he has big plans for.

“Brooks Running has been incredible in its support of Gabriele’s mission to help people who are struggling while raising funds for cancer research,” he says. “We are going to have some awesome gear available soon. I’d like to start offering some coaching through the foundation that is donation-based.”

There is an annual 5K Brave Like Gabe race in St. Paul, Minn. Justin sees even bigger events to honor Gabe.

“We are going to search out some more FKTs to raise money,” he says. “I think the majority of our FKTs will be fully supported and we would love to have anyone support or join us for the journeys if they are available.”

As Gabe’s life illustrates, it’s the people we meet, the journeys we take and the memories we treasure that truly matter.

“At the end of the day people won’t remember the PRs run or the teams qualified for,” Justin wrote in a letter to Gabe on Instagram. “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.”

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