Gabrielle Anderson was a Minnesota state champion in the 800 meters and earned all-state honors four times in cross country while attending Perham High School. She earned scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where she qualified for the NCAA Cross Country Championships three times, the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships two times, and earned All-Big Ten Conference honors five times.
Gabrielle, or “Gabe” as her friends call her, developed a reputation for having a tough look on her face at the end of races when it was time to dig deep and keep fighting despite the pain. This was dubbed “Gabe Face” by her Minnesota teammates.
Gabe’s story about exceptional toughness begins in the spring of 2009. She was in the early weeks of what was supposed to be her fifth year (senior season) at Minnesota. She had noticed a small lump under her ear at the top of her jaw and in March doctors performed a fine needle aspiration to sample the tumor. After the test, Gabe flew with her teammates to Tempe, Arizona for the Sun Angel Invitational, where she was slated to run the 1500 meters. On April 10, 2009, the day before the meet, she got a call from the doctor – she had adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of cancer of the salivary gland. Her coach Gary Wilson gave her the option to pull out of the meet because of the shocking news. But Gabe decided to race. Not knowing what the future had in store, it very well could have been her last race. Under these incredibly stressful conditions she ran a PR of 4:22.87. Five days later she had surgery to remove the tumor.
The surgery and battle with cancer put an end to her season, and meant that she would miss the Drake Relays, one of the highlights of the season for Minnesota. At previous Drake Relays Gabe had run on three winning relay squads, including 2007 when Minnesota set the meet record for the 4X800 meter relay. Gabe would not be at the 2009 Drake Relays, but her Minnesota teammates were thinking about her. They made “Gabe” patches to put on their uniforms. Also, her teammates made shirts to honor her toughness. The shirt had a picture of Gabe in one of her aforementioned “Gabe Face” moments, with the words, “Are you this tough?” above it.
Gabe would need to keep being tough. Even after the surgery, Gabe’s battle with cancer continued. Over the summer she underwent radiation treatment five times a week for six weeks. Adenoid cystic carcinoma has a high rate of late metastasis, which means that Gabe will need to get frequent checks for the rest of her life to see if the cancer has come back.
In August the twenty-three year old began running again, slowly at first, eventually building back to a higher level of training during the fall. She also decided to petition the NCAA for a medical hardship so she could compete for Minnesota in the spring of 2010 – it would be her fourth (senior) season but her sixth year in college. In December she got approval from the NCAA, she would be eligible to compete in the outdoor track & field season in 2010. Her collegiate career would not end with the 1500 PR earned under trying circumstances at the Sun Angel meet. She would get a full senior season to train hard, race fast, and be with her teammates.
On the one year anniversary of her diagnosis, she was back at Sun Angel running in the 1500. She PR’ed in 4:20.56! Then at the 2010 Drake Relays she anchored Minnesota to first place in the 4X800 meter relay and the 4X1600 meter relay. It was Minnesota’s fourth straight 4X800 meter relay win and they set the 4X1600 meter relay meet record.
The photos taken after the race suggest that if you have “Gabe Face” and are tough when you compete, you will be rewarded with a race that puts a big smile on both your and your teammates’ faces.
Down the Backstretch (May 2009) – http://downthebackstretch.blogspot.com/2009/01/gabriele-anderson-faces-cancer.html
Flotrack (Apr 2010) – http://www.flotrack.org/videos/coverage/view_video/236827-2010-outdoor-track-and-field-season/325788-minnesotas-gabe-anderson-and-a-healthy-start-to-her-final-season?SPSID=38651&SPID=3300&DB_OEM_ID=8400
MnDaily.com (Apr 2010) – http://www.mndaily.com/2010/04/21/anderson-back-after-last-year%E2%80%99s-bout-cancer