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John's Journal Top 10 No. 3/ A Special Day At The Brave Like Gabe Invitational

Perham Cross-Country Meet Raises Funds, Brings Everyone Together

Posted: Monday, July 8, 2024 - 9:15 AM


I have visited Perham many times over the years, and it is one of my favorite towns and schools in our state. It is filled with good people doing good things, and this story — No. 3 on my list of favorites from the 2023-24 school year — embodies that spirit of selflessness.

PERHAM – Behind his sunglasses, tears came to Kim Anderson’s eyes. This had been a special morning as dozens of high school cross-country teams and hundreds of runners had competed in honor of the daughters of Kim and his wife Laura.

Arvig Park in Perham was the site on Saturday of the fourth Brave Like Gabe Invitational, an event like no other. Competition was certainly part of it, but there was camaraderie, there was support, there was fundraising, there was remembrance, there was love, so much love.

Gabriele (Anderson) Grunewald, a 2004 Perham graduate, was a high school state track champion at 800 meters. She became an All-American runner at the University of Minnesota who went on to become a national champion as a professional runner. She continued her running career after being diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and was 32 when she died in June 2019. Her sister, Abby Anderson, was 29 when she was killed in 2021. She was walking in St. Paul when a vehicle driven by a drunk driver left the road and struck her.

“There’s a flood of emotions and it's gone by so quick, but it's absolutely wonderful to see how this has grown and the participation and everybody involved,” Kim said. “It’s just a wonderful, wonderful thing. We love it and we support it. We can't feel any better or more grateful.”

Kim wore a button with Abby’s photo, a memento from her high school running career.

The first Brave Like Gabe Invitational was held a few months after Gabe died. This year, nearly $2,500 in proceeds from concessions, t-shirt sales and donations from competing teams was given to the Brave Like Gabe Foundation. In the four years that the event has been held, approximately $10,000 has been donated to the foundation.

Another Brave Like Gabe fundraising event will be held Sept. 9, a 5K open to anyone anywhere. An in-person run will be held that morning at Como Regional Park in St. Paul, with others encouraged to run on their own. 

“This year we just had a lot of teams say, ‘We really want to be part of this event,’ ” said Jeff Morris, head coach of the Perham girls and boys cross-country teams and meet organizer.

“After Gabe passed away, I wanted to start a meet in her memory, having coached her in Perham ad having a strong relationship with her, and we stayed close to the family as she went through her cancer bouts.”

Signs in the park showed a silhouette of Gabe, arms outstretched. T-shirts reading Brave Like Gabe were worn by runners, coaches and fans. On the course, about 50 yards away from the start line on a slight grassy rise, “Brave Like Gabe” had been painted in giant letters. Every runner crossed that threshold as they began their race.

Gabe and Abby and their family were on everyone’s mind.

“I think it’s pretty cool for (Perham runners) to know that somebody like Gabe had such an impact, even globally, and not just in running, for something much greater than running and sports,” Morris said. “For our kids to see that, they can relate. She wore the same uniform, she ran the same trails.

“She didn’t let that small-town feel limit her dreams and her reach. I think it’s important for the kids to know that.”

Perham senior runner Mia Lung said Gabe’s impact remains strong in her hometown.

“I think it gives us a lot of purpose on the team, to be running for something so big and knowing how hard she fought every single time. I always know whenever we go out on a run we all have that motivation of, ‘If she can do it, we can be brave like she was and pursue our own struggles.’ ”

Saturday’s events included races for elementary kids, junior high runners, as well as combined junior varsity/varsity races for high school teams.

Perham won the girls and boys team titles. The Yellowjackets boys had a team score of 72, followed by Hopkins (96) and Moorhead (97). On the girls side, Perham’s 40 points led the field, followed by Hopkins (70) and Moorhead (91).

Hopkins junior Sydney Drevlow was the girls individual winner in 17 minutes, 35.8 seconds. Runner-up Mia Hoffman of Bemidji finished in 17:52.0. Bjorn Anderson of Perham was the boys champion with a narrow win over Eli Hall of Pequot Lakes. The winning time was 5:19.9.

The Hopkins runners left at 5:30 a.m. for the three-hour drive trip to Perham, showing the devotion that was evident everywhere among the 24 teams.

After the racing was complete and before the awards ceremony, teams were invited to take part in a cool-down Mile Memory Run in honor of Gabe and Abby.

Morris introduced Kim and Laura Anderson during the awards ceremony, and Kim spoke to the large crowd.

“I see a few parents from way back in the day,” he said with a smile. “It's unbelievable. It's awesome. I don't know where the time goes but we really do appreciate everybody's participation. … It’s so wonderful to see everybody here.”

--To learn more about the Brave Like Gabe Foundation and donate: click here:

--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] or [email protected]

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John's Journal Top 10 No. 2/ With Mason Archibald, Seeing Is Believing