Grunewald grew up in tiny Perham in Otter Tail County, a three-hour drive northwest of Minneapolis. She rode the bench in basketball. Running, even as temperatures dropped to 10 below and ice formed on her lips, was her freedom.
“I’ve always loved running and I never want cancer to take that away from me,” Grunewald tells PEOPLE. “Having the opportunity to be a professional runner was something that I never expected.”
Her battle began when she was first diagnosed in 2009 with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of cancer. Surgery to remove the tumor from her salivary gland was successful, but two years later the cancer reappeared in her thyroid, which was also removed.
For five years she was healthy, living her life, traveling and competing. She finished fourth in the 1500 at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trails and won the 2014 USA Indoor 3,000 meter title.
It was in August 2016, that she discovered her cancer came back for the third time— but now in her liver.
“That was a huge bummer and it was tough,” says Grunewald, who married her college boyfriend in 2013. “I had a big surgery that removed half of my liver and the tumor.
I couldn’t run for like three or four months.” But as soon as she could, she got back to training until her first scan in March showed that small tumors had returned.
“I’m running, but not fast because I’m going through chemo,” she says, which she started on June 6. “The most important thing for me has just been trying to stay involved in the sport that I love even though it’s been hard to manage my health issues with running.”
She added: “It’s something that I felt like I really needed to do just to carry on and have something to look forward to.”
When Gabe Grunewald crossed the finish line this past June at the US. Outdoor Championship.
The 31 year old middle distant runner was under going chemotherapy to treat adenoid cystic carcinoma. A rare cancer that had recurred for the fourth time. The National meet fell during an off week of treatment .
She and her fellow world-class runners walked single file, hair tied in ponytails, to the starting line of one of track’s premier events. The women were a lithe pack, and it was difficult to pick out Grunewald. Identified by the purple half-moon scar that stretches across her abdomen.
The runners toed the starting line, the crowd fell silent, a gun sounded and they were off.
Grunewald is not the world’s fastest 1,500-meter runner, although, she is competitive and fierce down the stretch. And her emotion was greeted down the front stretch by the running community with enormous cheer as the other runners circled around her with well wishes.
That was on June 22, and on July 12 Grunewald announced via Instagram that her body did not respond to chemotherapy. She explain her next step would be Immunotherapy and would be working with one of the best doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City. However, it wasn’t the devastating update. being dealt a terrible hand once again.
She deals with her dilemma with optimism, unwavering strength with an uplifting spirit. She also still runs regularly often after spending hours at the hospital for her transfusion. Gabe reveals I am in a tough situation — but I want my story to be as positive as it can be. I am not in control of my cancer, but I am in control of my attitude and how I live my life.
That’s the message she wants to send — our circumstance don’t define us; we can live our lives even in the face of a life-disrupting event like a cancer diagnosis. Across her abdomen, Grunewald bears a scar, the aftermath of surgery she had August 2016 to remove a tumor from her liver.
But this 13 inch strike across a her middle is a symbol of what she has been through and how she intends to keep living her life with her passion for running. To receive a serious cancer diagnosis is to feel an overpowering desire to retreat within and try to block out the chirpings of your mind. Grunewald made the decision to crawl out.
“I’m a young adult with cancer,” Grunewald said. “I don’t always love talking about it. It’s not a made-for-TV movie. It’s real. It’s scary.”
She gives and she receives, and that helps. “I love when people reach out to me, because it helps me get out the door.”