A Convicted Doper Won $10,000 In A Race Created By A Reality TV Star Who Forgot To Implement Drug Testing

Illustration for article titled A Convicted Doper Won $10,000 In A Race Created By A Reality TV Star Who Forgot To Implement Drug Testing
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Gabe Grunewald is one of the most inspiring and upsetting stories in sports right now—at just 31 years old, her running career has been interrupted by cancer three times, in 2009, 2011, and 2016. In 2017 she somehow raced a partial schedule through the U.S. championships while undergoing chemotherapy. It was simultaneously incredibly impressive that she was able to race at all and painful to watch her gut way through races.

Her story rightfully captured tons of national attention; as she continued receiving treatment this year, she has used that attention to raise money for cancer research.


Here’s where, uh, the star of two HGTV house-flipping shows comes in. Chip Gaines, of Fixer Upper and Fixer Upper: Behind the Design fame, says he bumped into Grunewald while she was running in Central Park last year, and that somehow inspired him to train for a marathon:

A few months ago I was in New York City with Jo, and I happened to meet Gabriele Grunewald (Gabe) as she was running through Central Park. She clearly knew what she was doing, so I got to talking with her and it turns out, she is actually a professional runner. I asked her how long it would take for an average guy like me to train for a marathon, and she convinced me that with some old-fashioned hard work I could be ready by the beginning of summer.

From there, Gaines decided to create his own marathon, with proceeds benefitting Grunewald’s brand-new foundation. The race was this past weekend in Waco, and Grunewald and Gaines say it raised $250,000 for her foundation. It also offered $88,000 in prize money—a very healthy purse for any race, much less one happening for the first time.

One problem: the race didn’t do any drug testing, which is standard for marathons that award monetary prizes. Road racing expert David Monti was the first to point this out, and LetsRun talked to several athletes who were surprised by the lack of testing. They didn’t talk to the two convicted dopers who showed up: women’s marathon fourth-place finisher Mary Akor and men’s half-marathon winner Alene Reta, who won $10,000. (Reta developed a reputation earlier this decade for scouting out big-money races without drug testing and winning.)

Women’s half-marathon winner Betsy Saina—who gave LetsRun an amusing account of paying her own entry fee and jogging her way to a $10,000 payday—told the website “I saw the money and I knew for sure there would be drug testing. That was what I was assuming anyway, because who would pay you $15,000 or $10,000 without drug testing?” Men’s runner-up Ryan Dohner, who picked up $7,500 but finished behind Reta, tweeted that he wished there were testing.

It seems that this was mostly an innocent mistake caused by Gaines being new to running—Monti told LetsRun that an adequate doping control could cost as little as $2,000, which wouldn’t have exactly threatened the race. While a reality TV star creating a marathon for cancer research and having to pay out tens of thousands of dollars to dopers who did their homework is objectively funny, one person wasn’t amused by the coverage: Grunewald.


In an Instagram post in which she correctly points out that doping isn’t really a serious real-world problem (like, to choose a random example, discrimination against gay people), Grunewald wrote, in part:

The follow-up press from the race has been overwhelmingly positive and ubiquitous, but it has been frustrating to see several elite running media members deliver harsh criticism of the overall race due to the oversight in the drug testing protocol on Sunday... As an elite athlete and advocate for clean sport, I agree that this is not an ideal situation and I have been assured that drug testing will be a part of next year’s race. But, honestly, do you want to know what is an even bigger bummer? Throwing the whole race and its many successes (not just the charity funds) under the bus just because it didn’t deliver on one preferred/accepted — but definitely not foolproof — method of attempting to solve a complex and systemic problem in elite running.....

...And to those of you really ticked off about the situation here this year I’m here to remind you that there ARE actually bigger problems in the world than doping in sport. This event got 6,000+ people moving in Waco, Texas for a worthy cause (cancer research) and most people had a wonderful experience in the process. That’s pretty damn admirable in my book. The other stuff can wait until next year. And when you get bucked off your high horse, I think you’ll agree.


You can read her whole post below.

New Orleans-based writer and editor