Why do we, ACSM members and certified professionals, do what we do? Why do we research exercise and disease? Train our clients? Advocate for more physical activity opportunities for youth? Test effects of exercise on some basic aspect of physiology? Serve as a team doctor for a high school lacrosse team? What’s our motivation?
Surely, we do it for more than the paycheck. We do these things because we believe in the transformative power of exercise. We believe exercise has the capacity to make us all better people: To take us, and our kids, clients, patients and study participants, to new heights and teach us new lessons.
Gabriele “Gabe” Grunewald certainly knew and lived this. Gabe was diagnosed with a rare cancer, adenoid cystic carcinoma, 10 years ago. She was a senior track athlete at the University of Minnesota and considering whether to proceed to a professional running career. Despite the cancer, Gabe proceeded. During the next 10 years, Gabe was hardly ever cancer free. Yet she placed fourth in the 1500-meter race, just missing the chance to compete for Team USA in London, and she was the 2014 national champion for the 3,000.
In an interview in April 2019, Gabe reportedly spoke of Olympic hopes for 2020. She had a plaque over her couch that read “There are two ways to live your life: The first is as if nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle.” Clearly Gabe chose the latter. Gabe also said she needed advances in medicine so she could live for a long time. She started the Brave Like Gabe foundation to raise money for rare cancer research and empower cancer survivors through physical activity.
Because Gabe was so remarkable, we invited her to join us at the 2018 ACSM Annual Meeting in Minneapolis to tell her story. Gabe struck many who heard her as a remarkably brave yet realistic young woman, who refused to let cancer have the last word. Watch the session in the video below.
Gabe passed away on June 11, 2019, surrounded by family and friends. She was 32 years old. Two days before, Gabe’s husband, Justin Grunewald, shared an open letter on Instagram: “At the end of the day, people won’t remember the PRs run or the teams qualified for, but they will remember that hard period in their life where they were losing hope but found inspiration in a young lady who refuses to give up.”
Why do we do what we do? Because WE refuse to give up. Because we, too, find inspiration in a life lived assuming everything is a miracle. Because we, too, are #BraveLikeGabe.
Kathryn Schmitz, Ph.D., MPH, FACSM, served as the 62nd President of the American College of Sports Medicine. She is a Professor of Public Health Sciences at the Pennsylvania State University’s College of Medicine. She is an exercise interventionist who has led multiple trials and translated her work into clinical practice. An online educational training program to prepare exercise professionals and physical therapists to deliver one of her breast cancer exercise programs has been delivered to over 700 outpatient rehabilitation specialists across the country.
Dr. Schmitz has published over 225 peer reviewed scientific papers and has had continuous NIH funding for her research since 2001. She was the lead author of the first ACSM Roundtable on Exercise for Cancer Survivors, which published guidance for exercise testing and prescription for cancer survivors in July 2010.
In March 2018 Dr. Schmitz chaired an International Multidisciplinary ACSM Roundtable on Exercise and Cancer Prevention and Control. The physicians, outpatient rehabilitation specialists, researchers, and exercise professionals in the room broadly agreed it is time for exercise oncology to go prime time. The question is how. Dr. Schmitz’ professional mission is to answer that question.