Middle-distance runner Gabriele Grunewald reserved this month for racing.
Next month, chemotherapy.
Grunewald delayed her latest cancer treatments a few weeks — with her doctor’s consent — in a quest to qualify for the U.S. Championships at the end of June in Sacramento, Calif.
Should she reach the time standard, she fully intends on taking the starting line — no matter how she may feel in the midst of chemo for a disease that’s gone from her salivary gland to her liver.
“I’m trying to keep my life normal, and not let cancer dictate everything I do,” said the 30-year-old Grunewald , who finished in 4 minutes, 12.29 seconds in the 1500m at the USA Track and Field Distance Classic on Thursday, narrowly missing the qualifying time for nationals of 4:09.50. “So I’m just taking it a week at a time, one race at a time, just trying to live as much of my life as I can in a meaningful way.”
Her next chance to achieve the standard for nationals will be at the Prefontaine Classic this weekend in Eugene, Ore. She’s also contemplating racing at the Adidas Boost Boston Games on June 2, which would happen to be right around the time she’s scheduled to undergo the first of up to six rounds of chemo.
“If this is the end (of competitive running) for me, I want to get in a couple of more races,” explained Grunewald, who could be added to the field at nationals if it isn’t full. “I don’t want to drop everything just because I have cancer.
“I do think that I have some good running in my legs right now.”
The former University of Minnesota standout got a late start on training this season, but those frigid runs over the winter in Minneapolis made her stronger and stronger. And that’s with a healing 13-inch scar across her stomach, the one from surgery last August to remove cancer from her liver.
It’s a cancer that resurfaced on a follow-up scan in March — the latest chapter in her ongoing battle with the disease.
In 2009, Grunewald was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of cancer in her salivary gland, which led to surgery. A year later, it was found in her thyroid and she had that removed, along with receiving radioactive iodine treatment.
Then, for the next several seasons, she was symptom-free, and racing better than ever:
— Fourth at the 2012 Olympic Trials, narrowly missing the squad for the London Games
— A 3000m title at the 2014 USA indoor championships
— Personal-best times in the 800m, 1500m, mile, 3000m, two-mile and 5000m
There was also this race, one of her more memorable performances: Finishing the 1500m in 4:01.48 on July 19, 2013, in Monaco. The three Americans who wound up in front of her that day — Jenny Simpson, Brenda Martinez and Shannon Rowbury — would later comprise the Rio Olympic team for the event.
“That was a race where there was a glimmer there, of what’s possible for me,” said Grunewald, who recently chronicled her journey with a blog . “But things haven’t turned out as perfectly as I’d hoped.”
Early last August, a month after finishing 12th at the Olympic Trials, her husband, who’s just finishing up his residency in internal medicine, gave her a hug and noticed her stomach felt different.
A tumor in her liver. She had surgery on Aug. 26 to remove the growth, with doctors feeling optimistic they got it all.
Her recovery was slow, though, with a four-mile run causing pain because of the incision. Around December, she ran eight miles, which was a big step as she began feeling more and more like her old running self.
“No matter what, when I’m on a run, I feel hopeful about the future,” said Grunewald, who’s not ruling out an attempt to make the 2020 Tokyo Games.
This spring, another obstacle: Finding out cancer returned to her liver — small tumors that couldn’t be treated through surgery. She will have a consultation for a biopsy next week and start chemo — something she’s never gone through — soon after.
“I was so excited to get back into fitness, to come back this year, to accomplish some of the goals that I wasn’t able to do last summer — and this came up,” Grunewald said. “The nature of my disease is it’s somewhat unpredictable. It really can come back whenever.”
A few more trips around the track this month — to keep her mind off what awaits and to see what she can do.
“I’m definitely scared, but I’m hopeful that maybe, even if I can’t 100 percent get rid of it, perhaps it can co-exist with me,” Grunewald said. “I’m just trying to hang on to running, because running has helped me so much.”
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