The Amazing Story of Gabe Grunewald and What You Can Learn From It
The other day I was feeling a little under the weather. Not awful or sick or anything so severe — just tired and meh. I decided not to go for my run, because I just wasn’t feeling it. So instead I did what we all do when we eschew physical fitness for other pursuits. I logged onto Facebook. And there I saw a link to a story that made me immediately log off, grab my running shoes, and hit the road.
It was about Gabe Grunewald, a pro middle distance runner who was competing in the national championships. And oh yeah, she has cancer. For the fourth time. Meaning she was undergoing chemotherapy while participating.
Grunewald, who is fighting adenoid cystic carcinoma, has continued to race and compete throughout her cancer journey, which began in 2009. She nearly qualified for the Olympics in 2012, and she won the 3,000 meters at the USA National Indoor Championships three years ago. That’s a pretty amazing resume for any runner. But consider that throughout it all, she’s been fighting a disease that has resulted in repeated tumors, most recently on her liver.
What can we everyday, nonprofessional runners learn from Grunewald’s story? Here are four things to carry with you on your next run.
Sometimes It’s Not the Destination But the Journey That Matters.
Grunewald has been fighting cancer since her college days at the University of Minnesota. That’s a very long time to be engaged in the act of not giving up. Through it, Grunewald has learned to prioritize things that make her feel good.
One of them is running. While she certainly wants to win races, and works hard to excel at her chosen profession, she also acknowledges running has helped give her something to focus on beyond beating cancer. She uses it as an “escape.”
When she’s training, she’s not thinking about her next chemo appointment or her white blood cell count. She’s contained in the moment, enjoying the feeling of a hard run, where she lets everything else go.
If that results in some race wins, excellent. But even if it doesn’t, running has played an important role in her treatment — to give her joy.
Never Give Up.
This is the biggest cliché on the planet, right? You hear athletes talk about “never giving up” all the time, and often it’s hard not to roll your eyes. Does Mr. $25-Million-a-Year Football Player really understand much about adversity?
But in Grunewald’s case, it’s true. She has never backed down in her fight against cancer, and part of that fight is remaining competitive on an elite circuit that includes arguably the fittest, healthiest athletes, pound for pound, in any sport. Even on our best day, the vast majority of us could not compete against these people.
Grunewald didn’t get her best day to race at the recent national championships. She got a day when she was less than a month removed from surgery and the start of chemo. And while she placed last in the race, finishing at all was, in itself, a kind of victory.
In an inspirational post on Instagram, she described her feelings at the end of the race:
Think about that the next time you are tempted to slow or stop during a race or a training run. Think about the many reasons Grunewald had to stop but didn’t. And then keep putting one foot ahead of the other.
Open Yourself to Others.
When her 1,500 race finished at national championships, Grunewald received a group hug from her fellow participants. They came together to form a prayer circle, and Grunewald described it as her “sisterhood” coming together to support her.
These women compete against each other weekly, sometimes even daily at their elite camps. But they are able to put those rivalries aside when one person is hurting.
Do you have someone in your life who will support you like that? It’s great to have in running, certainly. I have a #BestRunningFriend (my sister) and women who I run with regularly. But if you can find it in other parts of your life, that helps as well. My husband may not know much about running, but he does support me in everything, whether he understands what I’m doing or not.
Grunewald shows how huge that sort of support can be, whatever goal we pursue.
Persistence Pays Off.
Grunewald freely admits her training during chemo wasn’t top shelf. She has described it as difficult and admitted it would have been easier to leave the track completely in order to heal.
But she also has highlighted how much the training helped bring focus to her fight. She had goals to strive for, something to earn. When you go through a difficult time, just having that sort of tunnel vision and, yes, persistence, can help you through the fight.
Running teaches us to hone our persistence. The wonderful thing about it is that when you run consistently, you always improve. Maybe you feel a little less tired at the end of each run. Maybe you get faster. Maybe you run further. It may not be the same for each runner, but you will always see results. That will inspire you to keep pushing, just as Grunewald has in her fight.
A Long Road Ahead
Is it little wonder Grunewald has adopted the hashtag #NothingIsImpossible on her Instagram posts? She certainly makes it seem that way. Her fight against cancer is not over, and she does not know what the outcome will be. But she has partnered with USA Track & Field and The American Cancer Society to raise money for cancer research, a worthy way to use her raised profile to fight the disease.
That’s an awesome use of her celebrity and, hopefully, a way to ensure fewer people in the future have to battle the way she has. Thanks, Gabe, for teaching some astounding lessons.