Marathon record holder Grunewald loses cancer fight

International distance runner Gabriele Grunewald, a Cayman Island Marathon record holder who made headlines for her sporting achievements as well as her long-running battle with cancer, has died.

Multiple news agencies have reported that Grunewald, 32, died Tuesday at her home in Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Grunewald ran Cayman Islands Marathon’s half-marathon in 2013 in a time of 1:21:12, breaking Abby Anderson’s 2011 record of 1:24:44 by more than 3½ minutes. Grunewald’s husband, Justin, holds the men’s marathon record and ran the event several years.

In message posted on Instagram Tuesday, Justin wrote: “At 7:52 I said ‘I can’t wait until I get to see you again’ to my hero, my best friend, my inspiration, my wife. I always felt like the Robin to your Batman and I know I will never be able to fill this gaping hole in my heart or fill the shoes you have left behind. Your family loves you dearly as do your friends.

“To everyone else from all ends of the earth, Gabriele heard your messages and was so deeply moved. She wants you to stay brave and keep all the hope in the world. Thanks for helping keep her brave in her time of need.”

Gabriele Grunewald did not really excel at running until late in her college career. A walk-on at the University of Minnesota, she became an NCAA all-American in her senior year in the 1,500 metres.

By that time, she was already fighting cancer.

She was first diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of cancer that usually originates in the salivary glands, in 2009. A day after being diagnosed, she clocked a personal best in the 1500 metres, competing for the University of Minnesota.

She had multiple rounds of chemotherapy and surgery over the ensuing years as cancer was found in different parts of her body. She had a long scar across her abdomen from the removal of a tumour on her liver.

She missed a spot on the 2012 US Olympic team by one place at the Olympic trials and had said recently that she was training for the 2020 games in Tokyo. Perhaps the high point of her career was winning the 3,000 metre run at the United States indoor championships in 2014.