Podcast: Episode 31 with Gabe and Justin Grunewald

By Mario Fraioli |

“I grew up with faith and I do think that my life has a purpose—and maybe it’s not what I thought it was going to be, but I think that it does help me at some junctures with this disease. This isn’t how I would have chosen my life to turn out at all but maybe this is my way of fulfilling my life’s purpose and trying to raise awareness for these rare diseases that really do actually need it. I would never have raised my hand to do this, but someone has to.”

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I’m super excited to have one of running’s most impressive power couples joining me on the podcast this week: Gabe and Justin Grunewald.

Gabe is one of the top middle-distance runners in the United States. She has run 4:01 for 1500m and was fourth at the Olympic Trials in that event in 2012. In 2014, she won a national title in the 3000m and has been competing at the top of the sport for close to 10 years now. But beyond all that, she’s got an incredible story, one that involves a near decade-long battle with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare, incurable form of cancer that’s returned four times since she was first diagnosed in 2009. She’s had multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments, and just has generally been on a crazy rollercoaster ride with the disease since the age of 22.

Justin, her husband, is a super solid runner in his own right. He’s qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon and is now a budding ultrarunner, who I’ve been fortunate to coach since last fall. By day, or night rather, he’s a doctor, working long shifts in the hospital, and has a very intimate understanding of the seriousness of his wife’s condition.

It was a real treat to sit down with these two recently to talk about all kinds of stuff, from how they met as student-athletes at the University of Minnesota to Justin’s foray into trail and ultrarunning and what Gabe thinks about it; we got into Gabe’s health situation, what she’s been through over the past two years, how her relationship with running has evolved in that time, and the competitive goals she still has for herself; we talked about her role as a cancer advocate, starting the Brave Like Gabe Foundation, and coaching celebrity Chip Gaines for his first marathon, to what it’s like for Justin, as an MD, to be so close to the situation on both a personal and professional level. We talked about the power of positivity and living life to the fullest, what Gabe and Justin hope people take away from her story, and so, so much more.