Minneapolis community, beyond remembers runner Gabe Grunewald

Grunewald started the Brave like Gabe Foundation in 2018.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey leads a run in honor of runner Gabe Grunewald on Tuesday, June 25

Paul Hodowanic

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey leads a run in honor of runner Gabe Grunewald on Tuesday, June 25

Paul Hodowanic

“Brave like Gabe.”

The mantra is known to most by now. It has been printed on the back of T-shirts and written along sidewalks. It has trended on social media, and touched so many. And on Tuesday, the woman behind it all, Gabriele Grunewald, was honored as Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz declared June 25 “Gabe Day” all across Minnesota.

“This is quite a sight, and this is quite a community. It’s a community of runners but it is bigger than that,” Walz said. “It’s a community of people that are touched when you see a rare sole that passes through your life.”

Grunewald died on June 11 at the age of 32 after a 10-year battle with cancer. June 25 would’ve been her 33rd birthday. The event at B.F. Nelson Park in Minneapolis, consisted of speeches by Walz, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Grunewald’s husband Justin, who began organizing the ceremony late last week. The speeches were followed by a 1.405 mile run in her honor. 

“We kind of started to set this up, four days ago and we thought maybe five or ten people would show up,” Justin Grunewald said on Tuesday. “Now you are all here and I know Gabe is smiling down with the biggest smile on her face, and she has the most beautiful smile.”

Friends, family, runners and those in the community who Gabriele Grunewald inspired showed up in large numbers to remember her life, including fellow runner Francine LePage. LePage didn’t know her, but was compelled to come because of her story. 

“It inspired me because I can’t believe that she could have the courage to just keep going and going,” LePage said. “My parents died of cancer, my brother died of cancer, there is a lot of cancer in my family, so I understand it. It’s just such a young person, it’s so sad.” 

Gabriele Grunewald was an All-American runner at the University of Minnesota and holds the program record time for the outdoor 1,500-meters. Grunewald finished her Gophers career as the national runner-up in the event at the 2010 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. In her professional career, she won a USA Championship indoor title in the 3000-meter in 2014. 

“Gabe was obviously a world class runner, but it’s not her personal records, it’s not the national championships, it’s not that incredible way that she was able to find juice at the end of the race when everybody else was struggling and she could just finish it off,” Frey said. “It was how she inspired each and every one of us to live life.”

Along with Walz’s declaration, Frey announced June 12, the day after Grunewald died, as “Gabe Grunewald Day” in Minneapolis. 

“I know for however many years I’m on this earth, I’m going to run like crazy on those two days and every other day I have the opportunity to,” said Grunewald’s close friend Carrie Tollefson. “We need to celebrate and smile because it’s her birthday and forever this will be Gabe’s day.”

While Grunewald’s battle with cancer is over, the charity she founded in 2018, the Brave Like Gabe Foundation, will continue to support rare cancer research and continue to unite the running community. 

 “A couple months ago, she told me she didn’t think her story would matter anymore because she couldn’t run at the highest level and she was no longer contending for Olympics, but I think through sharing her story, it meant that much more,” said Justin Grunewald. “All she wants for all of you moving forward is to love each other, never take a day for granted, don’t make a bucket list just do stuff, get it done today and keep being brave and keep being hopeful. That’s what she lived for.”