These 21 awesome women made Team WR’s 2017 Game Changers list. Read on to discover how each is changing the world through running.
Elite runner, cancer survivor | Minneapolis, MN
When Gabe Grunewald crossed the finish line at the U.S. outdoor championships this past June, the other 1,500-meter runners circled around her and said a little prayer of well wishes. The 31-year-old middle-distance runner was undergoing chemotherapy at the time to treat adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare cancer that was recurring for the fourth time. The national meet fell during one of her off weeks of treatment, and the emotions on Grunewald’s face as she plowed down the homestretch were met with enormous crowd cheers. The running community was lifting up one of its own as she ran across the line, about to face another round of aggressive infusions.
That was on June 22. On July 12, Grunewald announced via Instagram that her body did not respond—“at all”—to chemotherapy. The cancer survivor was now looking at immunotherapy as her next option to beat the disease again. She explained how she would be working with one of the best doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York while undergoing the alternative to chemo.
However, it wasn’t just the devastating update that pulled at the heartstrings and grabbed headlines. It was also the way Grunewald chose and continues to choose to share her own story—with optimism, unwavering strength and an uplifting message about fighting for your best life. Instead of skipping the national championships, Grunewald finished her season and competed, and she has big plans to continue in 2018. She still runs regularly—sometimes right after spending hours at the hospital for her infusion. Despite being dealt a terrible hand—for the fourth time—Grunewald is making the most of it.
“I am in a tough situation with my health—there’s no doubt about that—but I want my story to be as positive as it can be. I’m not in control of my cancer, but I’m in control of my attitude and how I live my life,” she says. “That’s the message that I share that I think is important—our circumstances don’t define us; we can keep living our lives even in the face of something as scary and life-disrupting as a cancer diagnosis.”
Grunewald’s public display of her fight on social media has rippled through the running community, and financial support flooded in after one website started a fundraiser to offset medical costs. As of Aug. 28, six weeks since the #BraveLikeGabe campaign opened, donations exceeded $70,000. Grunewald has plans to pay it forward by “spreading my message of life and hope and positivity, while funding cancer research through running events and partnering with such events.” She’s already started giving back by becoming a voice for the “Together: Nothing Is Impossible” campaign through the American Cancer Society and USATF, which asked fans to pledge money toward cancer research for each medal won by Team USA at the world championships in August. (The U.S. took home 30 total medals, with nearly $200 pledged per medal.)
Across her abdomen, Grunewald bears a scar, the aftermath of a surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her liver in August 2016. The prominent reminder of the hell she’s been through is one she wears proudly, saying it’s promoting “scar positivity” for others who have scars due to treatment. But the 13-inch strike across her middle isn’t just a physical symbol of what she’s been through, but how she goes through it—with strength, vulnerability and bravery.