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On Sunday, Justin Grunewald, husband of beloved track athlete Gabriele Grunewald, announced that his wife—who has been living with a rare cancer for 10 years—was moved into comfort care. “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 wrote on Instagram.
That post has since wracked up nearly 3,500 comments in two days, flooded by the country’s leaders in the running community:
“Sending so much love and appreciation to you. Thank you for your generosity with this running community. You’ve changed every life you’ve touched. Every single one. Thank you for being love itself.” – Lauren Fleshman
“Roomie, my life is better because you have been a part of it. Thank you for ALWAYS bringing such light and positivity. Your presence makes everyone a better person. Thank you for inspiring me from the day I met you and making this world a better place. Sending the biggest hug and all my love to you and Justin.” – Mary Saxer Sibears
“Gabe, thank you for teaching me how to be fully present, to take chances, say yes, appreciate the beauty around me always and to dance—even when it hurts your scars a little. I love you Gabe and all the joy you and Justin have brought to my life. You are the strongest person I will ever know.” – Aisha Praught Leer
“‘I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.’ -Jack London. You used your time better than anyone I know, Gabe. You inspired countless times. We love you.” – Nick Symmonds
“Gabe, what an incredible life you have lived despite the hand you were dealt. Hopefully we can all learn to embody even a fraction of the compassion, grit, and joy you have demonstrated so publicly over the years. You are loved by so many people and will continue to be a source of inspiration to us all. May you run on forever.” – Tim Tollefson
“Thinking of you both, wishing you peace and comfort. Gabe, thank you for being you. You both have showed so many how to appreciate every day and live life to the fullest, not to take a moment for granted, how to be brave in the face of adversity, and most importantly (to me) how to be genuinely good humans in a world that can, at times, feel so cruel. Please know that your spirit and legacy will continue to live on and inspire.” – Desiree Linden
“Gabe, we will never forget you. You’ve given us all a gift for life—to be ‘Brave Like Gabe’ when we need it most. You will be with us forever in spirit. You are light and strength and grace and have been otherworldly in this fight of yours. You’ve always seemed more badass angel than human. That seems appropriate today. I am sending you a big giant hug til I see you again one day. We’ll be looking out for Justin, rest assured. Forever BLG.” – Mary Wittenberg
What makes these notes even more moving is that they—along with the thousands of other living tributes that have been posted in her honor across social media—have been read to Grunewald by Justin and her family.
“I spoke with Justin yesterday shortly after he posted an update on Gabe’s condition,” Mario Fraioli, creator of the Morning Shakeout podcast and newsletter, wrote in an Instagram post Tuesday (Fraioli also coaches Justin, who has been training for ultramarathons). “He told me that they’ve been reading Gabe the messages that have come in for her over the past few days and the notes from near and far have been sources of joy for her and everyone in the room.” (Justin also confirmed Tuesday morning in a comment on Twitter that “she’s still comfy on the couch sleeping, listening to stories and messages from friends and strangers around the world.”)
Jim Weber, CEO of Brooks Running [Grunewald’s sponsor]:
“To Gabe: Every one of Brooks Running has been inspired by your generous grit and smile—mile after mile. I was honored to interview you at Brooks 2017 sales meeting on your inspiring running career and incredible battle with cancer. Little did I know that less than 30 days later I would be diagnosed with cancer and become part of this un-fun Club that has affected way too many people. You set the pace on how to live life every day. THANK YOU for showing us the way.”
…that less than 30 days later I would be diagnosed with Cancer and become part of this unfun Club that has affected way too many people. You set the pace on how to live life every day. THANK YOU for showing us the way #bravelikegabe
— Jim Weber (@jimweberseattle) June 9, 2019
Katie Mackey, fellow Brooks athlete and middle-distance runner:
“Thank you Gabe, for being an example of how to respond in the face of darkness, fear and overwhelming uncertainty. Thank you for being light, choosing bravery and courage and to always fight for hope. Thank you for choosing to love and share your life and story with me and so many others.”
Molly Huddle, Olympian and 10,000-meter/half marathon American record holder:
“We love you Gabe. Thank you for not being afraid to use your voice, for not being afraid to grip a slippery thing like hope and ride it for years, for not being afraid to show your scars or race while on cancer treatment or start something new and big like the Brave Like Gabe Foundation or to speak to rooms full of people about your story or for not letting fear stop you from doing anything really. You are a warrior woman and you’ve touched countless hearts. It’s an honor to share not just the running world but this time on the globe with you. I salute you with every spiked stride on the track.”
Chip Gaines, host of “Fixer Upper,” the HGTV television show:
“To Gabe. We love you. You changed us forever, and til we meet again we promise to be #BraveLikeGabe”
— Chip Gaines (@chipgaines) June 9, 2019