Living Bravely with Dr. Justin Grunewald, Physician, Runner, and husband to Gabe Grunewald
Dr. Justin Grunewald works at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in the heart of Minneapolis treating patients during their hospital stays. He works nights for seven to 10 days in a row, then he’ll get about two weeks off. When I caught up with Justin, he was in Colorado ready to go on a RV trip, running, camping and adventuring in the woods.
On Episode #14 on the High Performance Mindset back in 2015, Cindra interviewed Justin’s wife, Gabe Grunewald. The fearless middle distance runner who was going after her dreams to make an Olympic team despite cancer. Gabe’s life was cut short at just 32 last year, but she still managed to make a huge impact on the running community and beyond. While battling a rare form of cancer and competing as one of the best middle-distance runners in the country, she inspired countless people to live bravely.
For over 10 years, she fought adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare cancer of the salivary glands, which she was diagnosed with as a fifth-year senior running for the University of Minnesota. Despite the diagnosis, she went on to become an All-American in the 1500 meters, and after that, a professional runner who almost made the 2012 Olympic team.
In this podcast, Justin and Cindra talk:
· Gabe’s life physiology and how we can each learn to live bravely
· How their foundation “Brave Like Gabe” started
· How Gabe was able to turn a difficulty into an opportunity
· Their “chance” encounter in Central Park with Chip Gaines that changed their world
· An inside look at the mindset of an elite athlete
Justin: Good, thanks so much for having me. I know we’ve been trying to connect and life has been crazy. So it’s good to finally talk to you.
Cindra: I’m really excited to talk with you today. And just to hear more about your journey and Gabe’s journey. And so maybe just to get us started, Justin. How about you just described a little bit about your passion and what you do right now?
Justin: Yeah, I mean, right now I have a couple different passions. I like to try to stay as busy as possible so first and foremost, I’m the chair of the Brave Like Gabe Foundation, we fund rare cancer research. It was created by Gabriel and two of her best friends back in 2018. Probably my second passion is running, trail running, mountain running spending time in nature and kind of exploring and getting lost. And that’s kind of a highly enjoyable thing for me. And then third, I shouldn’t say third is being a physician, but obviously we’re in a pandemic and I really am grateful to be a physician, because I feel like I get to help people. And it’s a very, it’s something I wanted to do my whole life, and it’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing so it’s a very fulfilling job for me.
Cindra: Oh, that’s wonderful. So I’m hearing that you really live your purpose and your passion through your work as a physician?
Justin: Definitely, yeah. I mean, it’s interesting to see people that are vulnerable and struggling or just people that are sick and them putting their trust in you. So you kind of feel like you better do a good job and help them out or help them in whatever direction they want to go.
Cindra: How is your work changed given COVID? Like tell us a bit about your job as a physician who you work with and then how your work has changed during this time period?
Justin: Yeah, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster I we’re going to happen, Northwestern hospital and higher ups have been great at getting us super prepared so it kind of all started, March, April, we were seeing chaos in New York. Thankfully, that never really happened in Minnesota, but come mid-May our numbers were really getting up our intensive care units were filling and then all sudden things really dropped off and now they’re starting to climb. Again, which isn’t great, but it’s just a very different environment atmosphere as everyone sees outside like when people are always wearing masks. It’s different socializing with people even and we see a lot when we’re not seeing coronavirus patients, we’re seeing a lot of really sick patients and we’re avoiding the hospital and we’re seeing a lot of mental health, a lot of like alcohol abuse drug abuse that I think is all being manifested through the same vein of COVID in isolation and fear and worry and things like that.
Cindra: Yeah. How have you been coping during this time, just with COVID, you know, what have you been doing to make sure you keep your mental health strong?
Justin: Yeah, I mean, honestly, I think one thing I learned from Gabriel and learned through our hardships in my hardships is no matter how bad or how hard a day is if you can kind of get out get active, get your blood flowing at the end of it, even if you have a terrible workout or if you have the best work of your life, you’re going to feel a little bit better. It’s going to take the edge off. So, I’ve been kind of running hard in the mountains, focusing on finding new trails new beauty and there’s tons of it in Colorado. So that’s kind of been my rescue after putting in long shifts in the hospital.
Cindra: Yeah, I love following you on Twitter because, were or where is it Instagram? I don’t know where I follow you, but just like seeing all your running journeys. Um, so, one of the reasons I wanted to have you on is this for the listeners to better understand Gabe’s story and also to tell us a little bit about Brave like Gabe and the foundation. So to get started with that Justin, tell us a little bit about how you and Gabe first met?
Justin: Yeah, so we both ran high school and so that we didn’t know each other, we both came to the University of Minnesota in 2004 as freshmen and we met, it’s called superblock there’s four dorms at the University Minnesota and kind of the runner kids were all mingling and this first time we met, we said to go play a game and pick-up basketball. She had on her. That’s like the general issue long cut basketball shorts. She was stubborn and athletic and like to win from day one. So that kind of drew me to her. We became best friends, study buddies and then formed relationship and kind of went from there.
Cindra: Yeah, that’s wonderful. Yeah, you know, when I think about from an outsider’s perspective, like I saw gave overcome so many things in her life. You know, it was cancer three times. Right. And I’m thinking about just difficult races as an elite runner. She got fourth at the trials, right, which is really difficult because you’re so close. I think that fourth place is the most difficult place to get you know when you’re in a qualifying race like that, how did you see Gabe overcome those difficulties and challenges?
Justin: I think, honestly, it was always her perspective and even with a hard diagnosis, when you’re sometimes battling the clock knowing life isn’t infinite, but it’s finite as it is for all of us just for some in more of an accelerated fashion. But I think that really drove her to make the most out of every day and it was funny because like the obstacles and racing she’d have a terrible race like the worst race of her life. It’d be like for me I’d second guess myself, I would probably turn into this downward spiral and I’d be like, I’m not fit. I shouldn’t be racing. I need to train for two months but she’d go to the track. Two days later, instead of PR and it was like just had this short-term memory where she forgot the bad race or use it as fuel to have a way better risk next time. And that’s just how she approached life, if you got a bad day at the doctor’s office bad diagnosis about prognosis. She kind of wipe the slate clean and said we’re going to move on to another treatment. We’re going to keep grounding. We’re going to keep loving and traveling and there’s really a perfect way to live.
Cindra: Yeah, well, and one of the things that I just heard you say is that she would use these. Do you think these difficulties like fueled her or do you think they helped to become stronger?
Justin: I mean yeah 100% but I think the craziest thing that is often overlooked because Instagrams and the Twitter’s done over the exist back then but her, what would have been her senior year of college she was a great runner for like the normal person, but she was not an All American she wasn’t competing really at national meets she was hoping to be towards the front of the conference meet, but then she got a cancer diagnosis had a radical neck dissection, it’s a pretty big surgery, had a summer of radiation and then basically took the summer off tried to like plan to go to radiation treatments 10 minutes or 10 minutes back. Which is crazy. That just shows how dedicated she was but then six months later, she was second place at the NCAA meet, which if you asked anyone who she was the year before, no one that knew NCAA track would have known her name.
Cindra: Right. Wow. Last year, we did a study Justin where we interviewed elite athletes about how they develop their grit and all of them said that they had overcome significant adversity to get to where they are. And it was like that adversity that set them up for success. We weren’t really expecting to find that you know that it was like that was the thing that help them get there. And that’s what I just heard in that story about, you know, Gabe’s senior year as a Gopher is like, do you think that cancer diagnosis like helped her when you know get second and NCAA is like and kind of just tell us a little about like how did you see or make sense of that in her head?
Justin: Yeah, so I think ultimately the years leading, I mean, not that, one of the million reasons I liked her was because I saw all this raw talent I saw this woman who had more speed than any woman, I’d ever seen. She was tough. We’d go for a longer and then she’d hang with me, just out of stubbornness, but it did take a cancer diagnosis to kind of unlock it and for her it, the year before she didn’t dream of being a pro or she want to go to law school, but then she was diagnosed with cancer. And she said, I’m going to focus all my energy on running. And that’s kind of what she did and she always had the talent. But yeah, just to unlock kind of the grittiness and the self-confidence and just knowing the urgency she all of a sudden had kind of changed her as an athlete. Big time.
Cindra: Yeah. So how did you see her develop that grit? You know, like I like what you said about like stubbornness, maybe a little bit of stubbornness, but like this ability to stick with it when it was hard. If it was a run with you or whatever that might be?
Justin: I think, part of the development was just her getting this very stiff filter of knowing what’s important and what’s not important. And I think that kind of worked. Also in like a pain filter. It’s like, ooh, like when you’re running hard. It hurts. But it’s like for me now and it’s how I cope, a little bit when I’m like running up a mountain. I’m like, wow, that really hurts like my heart hurts. I have a side ache but I’m like, it doesn’t really compare to the hurt, you’ve experienced and other aspects of life. And just to be able to control that hurt and even like dive
into that hurt a little bit is almost enjoyable, just because it’s so different. And I think that’s a lot of what she did. She experienced a lot of pain. We experienced a lot of pain together. The day she was diagnosed. It’s a day, you never forget. And then you Google it and you don’t read what you want to read and takes your breath away. So I think just knowing that the pain and her training and running is going to be transient and when you finish it’s going to feel a lot better. I think that was kind of her gritty perspective.
Cindra: Yeah. And so do you mean like the physical pain that we all experience when we’re running and really pushing ourselves like that helped her like embracing that pain is maybe a little bit different than the emotional pain of a cancer diagnosis?
Justin: Yeah, because it’s so controllable, not that you’re going to stop mid-race, but you’re like for her she’s running 1500 it’s like four minutes and five seconds of this pain. Whereas emotional pain can last and linger but you forget about all that emotional pain while you’re out there, which is great.
Cindra: Yeah. Yeah, definitely why exercise can help you deal with these difficulties, you’re going through totally, yeah. There’s a couple of moments that I had with Gabe that were incredibly inspiring. You know, like every conversation I had with her she’s always inspiring, but two moments, I think I remember one, I think it was on Instagram, where I saw her like in bed, ready to go into surgery in the hospital. And she said like something like this is happening today not to me but for me, you know, just like as a as a way to like help herd deal with it. Right, like she wasn’t a victim. So how do you see her emotionally cope with it all because I think like, you know, maybe one of our biggest fears as humans is to get cancer. Right. It’s such a scary disease or a diagnosis, maybe the best way to say it. How did you see her handle that?
Justin: I think. And again, this was, she was, is stronger than me, but I distinctly remember days in the hospital where it’d be a bad diagnosis. She’d never cried in front of the doctor because she was too strong to do that. But maybe if we were in New York, we go back to like the hotel or go back to our condo and we’d cry or we ‘d embrace and it’d be hard, but after like X amount of time should be like okay this is done like we’re not crying anymore we’re not wasting our day, we’re going to go do something and then we’re going to go get like a shake or go to a movie like we’re just going to keep loving because that’s all you can really do if you let depression sadness cripple, you can just go lay in bed as well. But she was constantly needing to move forward and I was always beyond impressed how she, she just didn’t want to waste any time she had and that was kind of how she looked at all these, they were all little obstacles that may end up taking her life. But she wasn’t going to look at it like that. She was just going to look at them as little obstacles, she was going to overcome. And later in her life, she got to share a lot of those obstacles and a lot of ways she dealt with it and I think she helped, I know she helped an incredible amount of people out.
Cindra: I know she did as well. And I appreciate what you just said about like not wasting time that we have on these little obstacles other people might perceive them as really big obstacles, but just the word like little also kind of shows a little bit about her perspective. And you said,
like how this is a great way of living. Tell us a little bit about your perspective because I think everyone who’s listening right now, I think their mind’s blown like in terms of how she was able to do that. But in your perspective, how is it a great way to live?
Justin: Yeah, I mean, honestly, and it’s how I’ll continue to live the rest of my life. But once she had metastatic disease. So, in 2016 and even before this still but CT scans she he had were more spread out before that, but once she had a large tumor intersection and her liver, we knew she was going to go CT scan every three months and it might be neutral news and might be good news it might be bad news, but we knew every time we’d have another three months and up until today she passed away, we still had our next three months plan. We had concert tickets bought, we had flights bought, we always were setting up things that we’re going to fill our three months with a ton of happiness and a ton of exploring and joy and running and it didn’t we never looked a year in the future is always just three months, and it was the perfect way to live. Because I know if you have kids and you have other obligations. It’s a little different. But I think if you always keep something in that three-month window, whether it’s like a special walk or if you’re in Minnesota like driving up the North Shore. Just something like it can be trivial and small but you still need something to keep you moving forward. And that’s kind of what we always did.
Cindra: Love it. You know, tell us the story about Chip Gaines and meeting him. I knowChip and Joanna have been such supporters and then that Gabe trained Chip for his first marathon. Right. Tell us actually how that encounter happened and just about that relationship?
Justin: Yeah, I mean, I guess through my time with Gabriel and through everything that happened in all of our experiences. I stopped for really believing and chance because too many strange things happen for it to be chance, but she was on a clinical trial in New York. It was around six months of immunotherapy. And this was going to be our like last visit we didn’t know before going there, but she got a scan her tumors have grown so she was going to stop the trial because it didn’t make sense if it wasn’t doing anything to her cancer so, which isn’t good news. So we went to the doctor that morning got bad news. Get a flight out that night and we always ran around Central Park. So I run longer distances. I did a six-mile loop. And as I was going to grab her. There’s a guy sitting on a bench me like yell at me, he’s like, Hey, you have a pretty stride and I’m like, thanks. Didn’t think twice and then he yells at me again. He’s like, how long would it take a fat guy like me to run a marathon? And I’m like, I have no idea. Like, leave me alone. He’s like, How long? and I’m like, to mean like ours are like months to train and he’s like months and I said four months. So I grabbed Gabriel, we’re walking, she’s waiting for GPS watch to connect this guy yells again, he’s like, hey, it’s you. And then she’s like oh hey Chip. And I’m like, oh, he must be like a friend of Gabe’s and he’s just harassing me but it end ed up being Chip Gaines.
Cindra: You got to be kidding me.
Justin: Yeah, so, then they’re chatting, and I’m like, who is this guy because, I mean, she’d made me watch the show. So I’d seen it but like after hospital shift. It’s kind of just like happy
TV where you’re like, this crazy guys doing demo day, his wife’s making these beautiful homes. We’re not really, he had long hair. He didn’t look like they just stopped Fixer Upper and who’s looking for his next adventure in life. And then there are some chatting wrote running for a half hour. And he’s like, I want to run a marathon. And she’s like, Oh, like, I’d love to give you advice and we snapped a picture he took her number. And then she just did a short loop because they talked so long, so she had to get back in shower for a flight but she took her shirt off. In the meantime, and came back to the same spot and share that big scar on her abdomen. He’s like “Oh my gosh, that’s like an amazing scar like I want to hear that story.” So she tagged him on Instagram and read all about her, reached out like a month later, and he’s like, you’re coaching me to run a marathon and I’m going to put on a marathon in Waco, Texas, and I want all the money we raised to go to whatever you want it to.
Cindra: Amazing. So, I knew that it was like a chance encounter, but I didn’t really know like how that actually happened and, there’s no way he that was chance.
Justin: Yeah, it was. And he’s been an incredible, he and Joanna their whole family been incredible. Ever since that came to visit her in the hospital. They actually we have just moved before she went to the hospital. And he’s like, Can I do anything while we’re in Minneapolis and I like jokingly said you can help decorate our condo and like because I didn’t have time to hang stuff like put furniture together. It was like in boxes and got home from the hospital like go for a quick run and it was finished beautifully. So they’re just, they’re really good people and they’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the foundation through their marathon and through his own giving.
Cindra: Yeah, that’s amazing. I remember seeing this picture in your living room that, is there like a sign that says like something like there are two ways to live your life one is…so I actually got we my husband and I bought a new home last year and I bought that Magnolia sign for a living room. So I have some angel wings right next to it. So, I have Gabe’s presence in my home which I enjoy. Yeah, how cool is that. And so what was that experience like in terms of at the marathon when Gabe you know as I saw you both running with Chip?
Justin: Yeah, so I mean they put on a world class event and they continue to which got canceled this year due to COVID, which is understandable, but essentially I ran the marathon Gabe would run a 5K and then they called and Chip was at like 20 Miles and he was struggling a little bit. I mean, he it’s. It was hot. He had a tool belt on. So, but we met up with them and then Gabe started running with them and he didn’t walk once the last six miles while Gabriel was running with him, which was pretty impressive to see he just kept cruising along and his lifetime goal or bucket list goal of running a marathon was finished, and was he was very grateful for the coaching and advice and it was just a perfect day really
Cindra: Yeah. Beautiful day of two people working together to accomplish something like so beautiful. Another time that Gabe really inspired me was her last race as a pro athlete when at the end and remind me it was a 1500?
Justin: 1500 yes.
Cindra: Where everyone, all the runners came around and supported her. So tell us about that that event, just from your perspective on what that was like for her to run her final race, even though she was going through chemotherapy and you know it wasn’t easy. What was it like at the end and to see so much support?
Justin: I mean, it was incredible. And I think it was well earned. I guess I joked with her after that she probably ran the fastest 1500 ever for someone that’s on a few months into chemo. I mean, in like layman’s term if there was a mile she still would have run. I think like 4:55 for a mile like deep into chemotherapy, but when she started chemo, she really wanted that season she really wanted to compete and then she even told me like it’s embarrassing like I would beat these people easily and now I can’t even like stay with them for two laps, but she thought it was so much more important to be that symbol of someone who’s struggling and someone who’s going through hardship and chemotherapy and multiple cancer diagnoses and the applause and warm welcome she got I think we’re amazing, but I think they were also well earned by her just to, I mean she hated to lose that like the grip part Gary Wilson her old coach, he would describe as someone that hates to lose more than she loves to win. And like, that’s how you really find a winner. I think so it, it killed her to do it and to lose all those people. But it was so much more important than any of the other races really.
Cindra: And I think that points to just like that she did something to serve other people you know that it wasn’t really about her running that race like the individual accolades, or the time that she’d run or the place right it was more about being the symbol of that you could still follow your dreams with this cancer diagnosis right? Or doing hard things, even in chemo. And so one thing that I saw like she that she just like live her life for other people towards the end like more. So I don’t know if that’s an accurate observation that you saw to what she was such a is/was, I don’t know what word to use, but is I’m going to say is, you know, just like the way that she was so vulnerable posting and just the way that she connected inspired other people. What did you see as her husband, you know, towards the end of her life and is that accurate to say that she lived for other people?
Justin: Totally, yeah. I mean, it’s interesting because it’s kind of a 180 and there’s like a very distinct time when you could see it even because early on she didn’t want to be the girl with cancer. She wanted to be Gabriel Grunewald the 11th fastest American 1500-meter runner ever like she just wanted to be the eminemity of being a great runner and didn’t want any sympathy and she never wanted sympathy, but she realized later during treatment, it’s going to be near impossible to train and she did have a voice and she had so much to share and she became incredibly selfless, to the point that it was exhaustingly selfless put she was passionate about everything, and she really like I said she had the filter to do things that were important, and not do things that weren’t important and she found a lot of very important things to do in her last few years.
Cindra: Yeah, and selfless, can you give us an example of what you saw her do?
Justin: Yeah, I mean, the thing I mean in hindsight, I feel terrible because I’d always we’d be sitting on the couch watching movie or something. And she’d be on Instagram for two hours never looking at the movie, but she’s writing back individuals that wrote her that are dealing with cancer and asking like how she ran what she did, and it’s just like just giving yourself up and making yourself so available when she was passing away, I was open about it, which I was never comfortable at the time with how open she was but then seeing how important it was to people I clearly became comfortable with it, but I was like, can we just like live our own life and be like, invisible but yeah, but she didn’t want to do that and she wanted to be like a beacon of hope. But then I get hundreds of messages in like not even in the cancer realm, but people that are depressed or suicidal or thinking about ending their life. And they’re like, I wrote your wife, two years ago, I had a plan to kill myself. And I didn’t see anything. I was so hopeless and she took her time to write me back and really the next day I took up walking and then running and I just completed my first marathon and I am not unlike antidepressants anymore. And I’m so happy and she had, like so many messages like that, that it just blew me away.
Cindra: Wow. I think that’s a true like definition of the word selfless right? And I think I mean at least what I saw, is I think because she was so vulnerable and allowed other people connect with her and that she was this beacon of hope. So what do you think is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from Gabe?
Justin: I mean, it’s one of her quotes that will always every time, life gets hard, it comes to the front of my mind, but it’s just in life we’re all going to struggle and it is a struggle, especially in pandemic times in like with racial injustice with all these horrible things so what she said is, it’s okay to struggle, it’s not okay to give up, and I think even at the end of life she wasn’t struggling anymore, but she never gave up and she continued to spread hope and now although she’s not like here on Earth she continues to and she has this great foundation and she still has this huge presence in the world. So just sometimes enjoying struggle because the struggle makes like its peaks and valleys and sometimes the struggle makes the good times that much better.
Cindra: So when I as I hear you right, I think about what it was like for you and still like for you just through the grieving process of losing Gabe. So give us a little insight on you know what strategies did you use while she was alive to be able just to cope with all of her diagnoses and then all the things that were happening?
Justin: Yeah, I mean, my biggest strategy when she was alive was her and her ability to kind of pull us out of a rut, no matter how dire, the situation would say, hey, like we can’t both cry. We can’t stand around, we’re going running like we’re going to go do stuff. And I think about how many times she pulled me to do that. She just made me capable of doing it on my own and it doesn’t always mean it never fixes everything and it doesn’t always make everything better. But it does make things a little lighter, it get it in a different headspace, I think, and it just can change a perspective and so many times I’ve found something or seen something that I needed to see and I’m never going to see that when I’m laying in bed.
Cindra: Right, absolutely. What have you done now, you know, in the last year or so to be able to cope with her passing. What have you been doing?
Justin: Yeah, I mean I think I’ve been trying to continue to live, how she are we left. Um, I’ve been running a lot, exploring, adventuring we both love being in the mountains spending more time in the mountains being open to new relationships and all those things. And I think it’s definitely a process and there’s not any one way to do it and if some people go through it fast, some people go through it slow. Sometimes it’s just like hitting speed bumps in the parking lot. You’re good for five days then you can’t stop crying or like, and it just happens but in time, initially I think I felt a lot of guilt and I think of all the things I could have done so much better. Like, why did I even work. Like, why did I go to med school, why did I go to residency. Those were like 80 hour weeks at times hundred hour weeks where I’m just a zombie taking her for granted but that afforded us in the last few years to travel and see the world and do all these other things. So, and with time all the guilty feelings have kind of melted into like all these beautiful experiences we’ve had. And that’s just really got better. So, I think if people can just be patient and it’s a process and there’s no book that says how it goes. But It does get better like you never stop missing that person. But for me, I see so many like happy images now, and that I just cry less because I have so many great memories and I’m like, wow, like that was the best life.
Cindra: Yeah. When you think of. I know people who are listening who maybe they are grieving right now, or they’re struggling in some way. What advice would you give to those people who are listening who might be grieving something?
Justin: Yeah, I mean for Gabriel and I we were, we are religious people. So we have a faith and we think that I mean, I believe there’s a heaven or there’s something I don’t know exactly what it is. But, and that helps me cope a lot, but I also like I said I don’t things happen by chance. So like every time I go outside. It’s like, I’ll be having the worst day and like a terrible grieving day and everything makes me just want to crumble and like when you get really bad thoughts like, it can get really dark, but then all of a sudden out of nowhere. It’s like sunny and there’s the biggest, brightest rainbow in the sky. And if you don’t like look up and look for the signs, you’ll never find them. I have a terrible night were in. It’s not like, but you have bad thoughts like thoughts of like harming yourself thoughts of not wanting to be alive and I drove or I ran to the cemetery. It’s a five-mile run from my house and I like couldn’t get out of the headspace and I was just the run didn’t help, but I laid down for the first time ever on my back, like where she lays. And I looked up at the sky. And I’m like, I just need something and all of a sudden she’s buried very close to Minneapolis. So there’s tons of light pollution, but the biggest shooting star I’ve ever seen in my life. Just like, it literally was like a rocket shooting across the sky and then I was like, okay, I can take a deep breath. Like, I feel better. So, and it’s just weird because I’ve never like, it’s not like I’ve asked for that ever before. There’s just like a one and done thing.
Cindra: That’s such a beautiful story. And I think that gives us hope, right, that people are watching down, I have felt a couple of times I think Gabe’s watching us somewhere on this
conversation. And now I’m grateful that we’re having this conversation that people can listen to.
Justin: Me too.
Cindra: So tell us a bit more about Brave like Gabe just the foundation how people can get involved, how they could donate. Yesterday I was on there and I was like, you guys got some work cool gear. Oh, I was gonna wear my Brave like Gabe shirt. I don’t know. I forgot. I had it all sitting out ready today. But I was like, I gotta go buy some new cool things on there. So, just tell us a bit about the foundation what you guys have been up to lately?
Justin: Yeah, so we have Brave like Gabe which started in 2018 by Gabriel and two of her friends, like I said, it’s a 501C3 nonprofit, we have various fundraisers, and then various people that fundraise for us, the money we raise goes to rare cancer research. And then our kind of second mission is to keep people active spread hope. So we fund rare cancer research. But we want to keep all people active, we want to keep people that are diagnosed with cancer. People that are depressed or have anxiety PTSD, substance abuse, like activity helps all those things immensely and so that’s kind of our that’s my top bullet point and then all the money we raised for cancers are like icing on the cake or whatever. But currently we’re actually in the midst of interviewing for new executive director, which is very exciting. So we have 5K we put on that became virtual this year, there’s a second opportunity in September, we did kind of like a double June and September thing because we had to cancel the in person. And we thought, in June, people could use a reason to get outside and we thought maybe COVID would be dying down by September, but who knows aside from that, we have a lot of amazing people that just reach out and want to fundraise on their own, there’s a woman right now running the PCT across Oregon and she’s trying to set the fastest time ever, and she’s raised like $12,000 for the foundation. She just made like a GoFundMe page. So yeah, lots of great stuff. And actually, other people who have lost loved ones. A woman just passed from a rare cancer around a week ago and in her obituary she stated, like in lieu of flowers, please donate to Brave like Gabe and I still our accounts email shows all the donations in I’m fortunate enough. That’s another thing. Like when I have a bad day. Not everyone has access to this, but I like click onto the accounts email and see like these donations in honor of, in memory of, or even if it’s because I because I had a bad day and look to like Gabriel’s Instagram page. And now I feel better. Like all this stuff comes in and then spires me hugely and then we have our online store. It’s bravelikegabe.org, but we sell running apparel and then company T-shirts and sweatshirts. So lots of stuff. We will be obviously paying the executive director, but we just grew our board as well. So we’ll have a large working board. So we try to really minimize any funding towards paying people all the money from the online store goes to rare cancer research because one of Gabriel’s main objectives was to not have any waste. We just want to be incredibly clean foundation. We don’t have a headquarters. We don’t really have any overhead, which is nice. So that’s important to me because that was one of her big wishes.
Cindra: And for people to get involved. They should head over to bravelikegabe.org they could get some of the gear or donate or maybe they have a race coming up that they want to raise
money for Brave like Gabe. Is there anything else they could do to get involved? Like sign up for the virtual 5K?
Justin: Yeah, sign up for the virtual 5K as well. We do one thing that people like or I think is pretty coo where we share something called my brave story. Um, so people that have struggle in it will be expanded to basically anyone, but kind of shared it specific questions you can submit it on the website. Then we share it through like social media and on the website, but I think it’s cool to share people’s uplifting stories of how they persevered and found hope and kept going. So it’s nice, like Gabriel was always a little uncomfortable with Brave like Gabe because she’s like everyone else’s brave to but I think she’s extra brave so it can be brave like insert your name here, you know, Gabe’s just kind of like the header.
Cindra: Yeah, that’s beautiful. And talk about, I don’t you know like she was so incredibly brave that, you know, I just think of all the ways that you just share with us have being able to take these difficulties and turn them into maybe opportunities or ways to move forward Justin I’m so grateful that you spent some time with us today. I’m glad that you were able to jump on finally. And here’s some things I got from our conversation. I loved just all the stories of Chip Gaines or you know games last race or the story of you laying by her grave site and just getting that shooting star right I think all those stories, just as we listen, give us hope in our life and I know that you know in different ways people are struggling right now they’re struggling with COVID or just the lack of opportunities or maybe they’re struggling with their own health or they’ve lost somebody that they love, you know, and how you talked about how she just lived so selfless. Particularly at the end of her life. And then her favorite quote that will all struggle in life and it’s okay to struggle, but it’s not okay to give up.
So Justin, How can people reach out to you or follow you and your adventures.?
Justin: Yeah, I do the Instagram thing it’s Justin Grunewald or Justin Grunewald1 or something and then I haven’t even know what my Twitter handle is. I’m always open. I tried, I always go through, I do get a lot of messages from people that are diagnosed cancer or spouses or loved ones and I try to respond to everyone and I think that’s important just sometimes it gets backed up after, like after Gabriel’s birthday or to have passing. Those are like days and sometimes you just need some time off from social media, but I try to get back to anyone and people can shoot messages through the foundation and those make their way to me eventually, as well. Yeah, following Brave like Gabe on Instagram is the best place because I think there’s a lot of good inspirational hope filled stories on there.
Cindra: I agree, Justin, any final thoughts or advice that you’d give people who are listening?
Justin: I think just realizing we’re all going to have bad days, but there’s a tomorrow and if it was a bad day today it’s likely going to be better tomorrow and I’m grateful for your time. It was great to connect and chat and nice to see you.
Cindra: It was nice to see you. Thank you, Justin. I’m so grateful for your time today.