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'It was a fun ride. It ended way too quick': Gabriele Grunewald's father remembers her passion

Gabriele (Anderson) Grunewald, an NCAA all-American runner in the 1,500 meters, at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., May 26, 2017. Grunewald, who gained the admiration and support of thousands for her perseverance in competing through much of a decade-long battle with a rare metastatic cancer, died in Minneapolis on June 11, 2019. She was 32. Chris Low / The New York Times1 / 4
Gabriele (Anderson) Grunewald competes during the women's 5000 meters at the 2016 U.S. Olympic track and field team trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. Grunewald died on Tuesday, June 11, after a decade-long battle with cancer. Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports2 / 4
Gabriele (Anderson) Grunewald, an NCAA all-American runner in the 1,500 meters, at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., on May 26, 2017. Grunewald, who gained the admiration and support of thousands for her perseverance in competing through much of a decade-long battle with a rare metastatic cancer, died in Minneapolis on June 11, 2019. She was 32. Chris Low / The New York Times3 / 4
Gabriele (Anderson) Grunewald competes in the women's 1,500 meters during the 2017 USATF Classic at Occidental College is Los Angeles. Grunewald, after a decade-long battle with a rare metastatic cancer, died in Minneapolis on June 11, 2019. Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports4 / 4

MINNEAPOLIS — One of the first races Gabriele (Anderson) Grunewald ran, she got lost. She was in middle school in Perham and ran the wrong way. She finished third or fourth, but told her dad that if she hadn't run the wrong way, she would've won.

When she was in seventh grade her dad bought her golf clubs in the spring. Grunewald went out for cross country at Perham High School the next fall and never golfed again.

"She just took to it," Grunewald's father, Kim Anderson, said. "We used to call her a little gazelle. She was a natural."

Grunewald kept running.

She ran at Perham until she graduated in 2004. She had to walk-on at the University of Minnesota, where she turned herself into an all-American in the 1,500 meters. She logged her fastest time in the 1,500 a day after learning she had adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of cancer in the salivary gland, in 2009.

She got faster after learning she had thyroid cancer in 2010. She fell one spot short in the Olympic trials in 2012 and won a United States indoor national championship in 2014. She made it to the finals of the U.S. Olympic trials in 2016, despite unknowingly having a grapefruit-sized cancerous tumor on her liver.

"She was just fun to watch because she always had a kick at the end, even when she was hanging back," Anderson said.

She was training to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. Instead, the funeral for Grunewald will be at noon Monday, June 17, at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. She died at the age of 32 on Tuesday, June 11, from complications of cancer.

"Her story takes her through a roller coaster of stuff. It's long," Anderson said. "Most people watch their kids run in high school or even college. I could just go on and on. I'm blessed to see her do so much. She just kept going. She ran in Europe in front of royalty. That's the theme of it. I could go on and on."

Laura Anderson, Gabriele's mom, named all five of her children biblical names. Grunewald was named after the angel Gabriel, because Laura said it means "fight for the right, God is my strength."

Laura nearly died from appendicitis when Gabriele was born. Kim remembers bottle-feeding his daughter during that time, while Laura recovered. He's a physical therapist, so he was always by Grunewald's side. He helped her get back on the track in the middle of her senior year at Perham after she missed a few weeks due to injury. Grunewald won her only high school individual state title that season. He was working on Gabriele when she found out she had been disqualified from the U.S. indoor 3,000 meters. She would eventually be reinstated.

But there was nothing Kim could do, as he sat in the waiting room of the Fairview Riverside clinic in Minneapolis after he found out Grunewald had cancer in 2009. Two weeks previous, he was sitting in the same waiting room, as Laura had surgery for what doctors thought was stage 4 ovarian cancer. The tumor removed from Laura was benign.

"It just sums up the roller coaster," Kim said.

Through the entire ride, Kim was always in awe of the attitude Gabriele carried. An operation on her neck damaged a facial nerve and changed her smile. She kept smiling. Gabriele said the 13-inch scar on her abdomen represented survival.

Her motto became "Brave Like Gabe." That would also become the name of a foundation she created for cancer research.

Something Kim said most people don't know about Grunewald is her ability to sing and dance. She loved to do karaoke. The family is going for a fun run after her funeral that will end with music, food and dancing at Gabriele's and her husband Justin Grunewald's favorite craft beer brewery in Minneapolis.

"Her message was even though you have cancer, that doesn't mean you have to stop," Kim said. "You can keep doing the best you can."

The ride has continued. The support has come from all over since Gabriele died.

One note that stuck with Kim came from the father of Justin's friends. He was in his 60s and had cancer. Kim began to cry Thursday as he discussed the note from the man. It stated before he knew Gabriele's story, he had the opposite attitude when it came to his cancer. He was angry, frustrated and felt sorry for himself. After seeing how Gabriele fought, he changed his attitude.

Justin often said he was the Robin to Gabriele's Batman. Kim doesn't want Batman to die with his daughter.

"Batman would always say everyone is Batman," Anderson said. "Everyone has the capability to do what Batman does. He had his own faults, his own difficulties, so did Gabe. It's just how she choose to handle them. She handled them with great strength.

"It was a fun ride. It ended way too quick, but she touched more people around the world than I can imagine."