Professional distance runner Gabriele “Gabe” Grunewald, who gained thousands of fans over the years by sharing her inspiring story, has died after a decade-long battle with cancer. She was 32.
Gabe’s husband Justin Grunewald confirmed the devastating news on Tuesday evening in an emotional post on Instagram that featured two photos of the couple running side-by-side.
“At 7:52 I said ‘I can’t wait until I get to see you again’ to my hero, my best friend, my inspiration, my wife,” Justin began the heartfelt note.
“@gigrunewald I always felt like the Robin to your Batman and I know I will never be able to fill this gaping hole in my heart or fill the shoes you have left behind,” he continued. “Your family loves you dearly as do your friends.”
Continuing his message, Justin thanked their friend and HGTV star Chip Gaines after he vowed to match any donations that were made to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and Gabe’s foundation, Brave Like Gabe, earlier in the day.
RELATED: Chip Gaines Vows to Personally Match Donations Made in Terminally Ill Runner Gabe Grunewald’s Name
Chip and Gabe first crossed paths last year after the professional distance runner helped train him for his first marathon.
“When @chipgaines made the final push in his #chipinchallenge I could feel your happiness building and could also see that this made you ready to head up to heaven,” he wrote. “Chip thanks for helping her to go up so peacefully with no suffering.”
Added Justin: “To everyone else from all ends of the earth, Gabriele heard your messages and was so deeply moved. She wants you to stay brave and keep all the hope in the world. Thanks for helping keep her brave in her time of need 😪🙏🏻”
RELATED: Gabriele Grunewald’s Husband Shares Heartbreaking Letter to the Runner Before She ‘Heads to Heaven’
Gabe, a former track and cross-country athlete for the University of Minnesota, was first diagnosed with a rare salivary gland cancer called adenoid cystic carcinoma in 2009. A year later, the Perham, Minnesota native learned she also had thyroid cancer.
Following her initial diagnoses, Gabe continued to run amid her surgeries and treatments. She even placed 4th in the 2012 USA Olympic Trials — just narrowly missing the cut to make the Olympic team — and was the 2014 U.S. indoor champion in the 3,000-meter, according to her website.
Over the past few days, Justin kept his followers updated with the unfortunate circumstances around Gabe’s declining health.
On Sunday, he revealed that his wife had been moved to comfort care after her condition began to worsen and asked everyone to send “one last message” to Gabe before she “heads up to heaven.”
The decision came just two days after Gabe was readmitted to the ICU because she was experiencing septic shock.
“It breaks my heart to say but overnight Gabriele’s status worsened with worsening liver function causing confusion. Wanting to do her no harm we have made the difficult decision to move her to comfort cares this afternoon,” Justin sadly announced on Instagram.
“I wanted to let you all know while she is still alive so you can send her one last message here or on her wall or on her phone before she heads up to heaven,” he added.
While watching Gabe fight a few years back, Justin said he wrote her a letter to describe what she meant to him. That note, along with a heartbreaking photo of the couple holding hands in the hospital, was also shared to his Instagram.
“Thank you so much for showing me what it’s like to be and feel alive. It’s easy to pass through life day to day and punch a time card wishing away the hours,” he wrote. “Currently although I don’t always show it, I cherish every second.”
Justin went on to explain how “life is scary” and that the couple unfairly “won the lottery of uncertainty” but said he’d rather have that life with Gabe “over any alternative option I could think of.”
“I have so much fun with you and have learned more from having you as my best friend and wife than I learned in the rest of my life combined,” he sweetly wrote.
He also noted how brave his wife has been through the terrifying experience and referenced her “Brave Like Gabe” foundation, which the runner created as a way to support rare cancer research and empower all cancer survivors through physical activity.
“I know you have been given the heaviest of tasks in life… but I don’t think you were chosen by random chance, and again I know that’s not fair but you are so amazing at being you and that’s why I feel bravelikegabe is so special,” he wrote.
“At the end of the day people won’t remember the PRs run 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,” he finished. “I love you.”
RELATED: Chip Gaines Honors His Marathon Trainer Gabe Grunewald As She Enters End-of-Life Care
On Monday, Justin shared another heartbreaking photo — this time, of his wife on the couch at home in comfort care with several of her loved ones around her.
Though Gabe was surrounded by her friends and family in the photo, part of her head could be seen as she laid on the couch with her eyes closed.
Justin also revealed that as the couple returned to their new condo for the final time together, Chip and Joanna Gaines, along with Magnolia PR director Brock Murphy, helped add some new décor to the walls to “make it feel like home.”
“‘There are only two ways to live your life. One as though nothing is a miracle, the other as though everything is a miracle,’” he wrote, referencing the sign on the wall. “@gigrunewald chose the latter. We got her home to our comfy couch and she is resting peacefully and breathing easy surrounded by her best friends and family.”
“She made it home in time to see some extra special finishes @chipgaines, @joannagaines, and @brockwayne put on our new condo to make it feel like home,” he added. “For that, I have no words. #bravelikegabe #runningonhope #keeprunningonhope”
He followed that post with another emotional one on Tuesday, where he sadly revealed that Gabe had worsened.
“As the seconds between Gabriele’s @gigrunewald breaths start to lengthen I’m holding her hands so tight and am so scared for the trail ahead,” he wrote alongside a photo of the pair hiking together.
“But I know she will always be by my and everyone’s side helping us to be brave and remain hopeful on our journey when times get hard. 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻”
Following her initial diagnosis ten years ago, Gabe’s adenoid cystic carcinoma returned in 2016 and 2017, according to her website.
Her last Instagram post, which came on May 4, stressed the importance of cancer research after she was forced to miss her Brave Like Gabe 5K because she was hospitalized with an infection.
“It’s not lost on me that maybe this is one of the most poignant ways to show just how critical research is,” she wrote. “Cancer is nothing if not incredibly inconvenient and we need more options. I wish I didn’t have to show it in this way.”
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