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Lives Changed By Cancer, Two Gopher Athletes Team Up For Ambitious Fundraiser Ahead Of Border Battle Against Badgers

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- This year, two University of Minnesota Gopher athletes were united by a fate no one wants to be part of: either losing someone to cancer, or fighting it.

Former Gopher runner Justin Grunewald and football placeholder Casey O'Brien are using what they have in common to team up in a big way, raising money ahead of O'Brien's game against the University of Wisconsin on Nov. 30.

Brave Like Gabe is a nonprofit founded by Gabriele Grunewald, Justin's wife. She was a four-time cancer survivor and a walk-on student-athlete at the U of M. When she died in June 2019, she left behind a legacy, momentum to fund rare cancer research, and a husband determined to keep her foundation running.

In 2019, Brave Like Gabe has raised $1.5 million.

"It's been amazing—the outreach, the support," Grunewald said. "It's pretty incredible."

And it's time to pay it forward.

Brave Like Gabe will match up to $100,000 leading up to the Border Battle game at TCF Bank Stadium, rallying Gopher and Badger fans alike, donating it all to osteosarcoma research at the university, in O'Brien's name.

"I have never seen $1,000 in person, so I don't know how I can wrap my head around $100,000," O'Brien said. "But I know that I have already received a letter from Dr. [Branden] Moriarty saying how much that means to him."

Grunewald met O'Brien at the University of Minnesota versus Nebraska game on Oct. 12, when Grunewald served as honorary captain. That was one week before O'Brien's story of overcoming cancer intersected with his first appearance on the field, holding for three point-after attempts.

"It's unbelievable," said O'Brien, about getting to wake up and play football every day. "I grew up watching Gopher games my whole life, grew up 15 minutes from the stadium. So now to be able to put on a jersey and run out in that tunnel for the state you grew up playing in, and the team you grew up watching… it's hard to describe."

The incentive will aim to fund better treatment options, clinical trials, and anything to change someone's fate—to give them hope.

"We obviously want the Gophers to crush the Badgers, but when you can make it bigger than sport, it's such an important thing," Grunewald said.

To donate to Grunewald and O'Brien's fundraiser supporting osteosarcoma research, click here.


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