A Utah Dad's Challenge Has Led To Daughter's Career Pursuit

* Timpview (UT) distance talent Jane Hedengren celebrates winning a Utah 5A outdoor state title in the 1,600m in May.

Photo Credit: Jim Ballard/MileSplit Utah

"Jane is very determined. She has goals, but she also has a lot of fun with that. I love those two elements of her."

By Ashley Tysiac -- MileSplit

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John Hedengren says he's always known his oldest daughter is a challenge-seeker. 

That sentiment dates back to when his daughter was in the sixth grade, when the casual mention of a school record attempt turned into a passionate pursuit for current Timpview (UT) High School sophomore Jane Hedengren, who presently ranks as the No. 2 10th-grader in the country for three miles.

Her passion began with a simple goal from her father in the winter of 2018 -- clock faster than a 5:53 mile. That would make Jane the grade record-holder at her school and give her something to chase.

So the father and daughter ventured to the Brigham Young University indoor track on a cold, winter day to see what kind of speed Jane had in her. John, knowing Jane was still months out from achieving this feat, put 400m repeats on the docket -- just to give her something to have fun with.

But Jane took the quarter-mile repeats seriously. 

Frustration brewed in Jane as she fell slightly short of the ideal splits. John wondered why Jane, still rather new to the organized sport, had taken the track work so earnestly. After all, she was merely in middle school. 

"I'm like, 'OK, wait a minute. You're a sixth-grader working toward this goal that's like four months away, and you're getting frustrated with your performance now?'" John said.

But part of him also wasn't shocked at all by Jane's determination.

It's a competitive bug that he, too, experienced as a BYU hall-of-fame distance athlete, and still channels as an active runner in his adult life. Sure enough, months later, in May 2019, Jane smashed the previous record in a best of 5:41, with John-produced YouTube evidence to document the prideful moment.

That's a tenacity rarely seen from a young athlete not yet a teenager. But it didn't surprise John, who realized that the apple didn't fall too far from the tree.

"Jane has that fighting spirit, that competitive nature," he said.

The miniscule-yet-pivotal middle school record hunt lit a fire under Jane, and now as a high school sophomore, she still carries that same gamer mentality she began channeling at 12 years old.

"I really got hooked on it and loved almost everything about it," Jane said.

Just weeks into the 2022 cross country season, Jane has made a name for herself in the always-strong distance community in Utah, clocking new 5K and three-mile personal records of 17:46.00 and 17:10.80, respectively. That ranks the Timpview sophomore at U.S. No. 3 for three miles and within the top 35 nationally for 5K, only a few meets deep into the fall season.

She may be one of the top up-and-coming young distance athletes in Utah -- perhaps the entire country, for that matter.

But for Jane, developing as a runner goes beyond the numbers and times.

Rather, it's just the next part of a journey that began with her always-encouraging father and family, who steered her down the path to running success at a young age.

For the Hedengren family, running serves not just as an outlet to channel their strong-rooted competitive juices, but as a way to bond through a shared, common passion.

Jane fully embodies all those traits that one could define the Hedengren family by -- ruthlessly competitive, highly driven and always ready for a challenge, especially as she begins her 10th-grade year.

"Jane is very determined," John said. "She has goals, but she also has a lot of fun with that. I love those two elements of her."

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A Family Of Runners

The Hedengren history in the sport begins with John, who took to distance running as a naive middle-schooler. 

He went from humble beginnings, too -- he said he showed up to his first middle school track practice in jeans -- before transitioning to collegiate-level racing at BYU, where he balanced the rigor of being an all-time program distance athlete and a determined chemical engineering student in admirable fashion.

A 2015 BYU Hall of Fame inductee, John excelled both on and off the track, with highlights including an All-American finish at the 2000 NCAA Cross Country Championships and a program record five-time CoSIDA Academic All-American awards.

He played a crucial role on a total of 11 track and cross country conference championship teams and even won an individual title himself at the 1999 Mountain West Conference Cross Country Championships. 

* John Hedengren is honored at a football game, with his young family in tow, as a 2015 BYU Athletics Hall-of-Fame inductee.

Photo Courtesy: John Hedengren

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But it was his time juggling miles and completing mind-boggling engineering work that forced him to embrace the simplicities of running. 

When John and his wife, Sarah, later began building their family with their five children -- Eric, Isaac, Jane, Peter and Susan -- running didn't come to a halt. Rather, it became a part of their family dynamic, from John breaking out the jogger stroller on runs to bringing the kids out to road races.

The oldest of the five children -- Eric and Isaac -- began the second-generation of Hedengren runners. Then Jane came along in elementary school, joining a local junior running club.

But John said he saw something unique in Jane, who from the get-go wasn't afraid to chase lofty goals and hit hard workouts on her own accord. Jane knew, too, that something clicked when it came to running, perhaps because of her personality as a challenge-seeker, or the long family history in the sport -- maybe even a combination of the two.

"The thing I love about running is how I can push myself and see what I'm capable of," Jane said. "I love the challenge and love how it can be hard and can learn lessons from it."

John would eventually help start the Roadrunners Junior Club in Provo, Utah during Jane's seventh grade year, a youth team that still plays a large part in the Hedengren family routine. He would -- as he still does -- dedicate himself to leading young athletes and his own children in their early years navigating the sport, even uploading videos of the team's races and workouts to a YouTube account. 

Jane would go on that same year to represent the family-involved club team in her first high-stakes race at the USATF National Junior Olympics Cross Country Championships, where she placed 20th in the 13-14-year-old division.

The adrenaline rush that came with the gritty USATF competition had Jane bought into the sport instantly as a middle schooler. Since then, that mindset hasn't changed one bit.

"I love those type of races," she said. "I got hooked with those early, more-pressure meets."

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Shared Love For Competition

While dad and daughter have always been close, John and Jane found greater appreciation for each other -- and the sport of running -- at the most unlikely of times.

The March 2020 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic saw running competition at all levels come to a halt, and team training turned minimal out of necessity. But when part of a gritty family of runners, finding new ways to keep recording the miles comes second-nature.

When faced with great uncertainty, John and Jane found greater tenacity and connection.

The challenge-seekers no longer had races to train for. Instead, they took a new route of competing against each other as training partners, Jane working toward future high school success, John looking to push himself as an avid runner. 

They deemed most of their bouts friendly at their roots, but there's no denying that neither likes to lose a challenge, especially Jane, who said she hates coming second to her dad, even in something as routine as running a workout split.

Tempo runs turned into back-and-forth duels, Jane refusing to let John pull even a foot ahead of her.

Interval work could make for some tight contests as the two would relish seeing who could come out on top in the latter workout reps.

It made both Jane and John better -- as runners, as competitors and close friends.

"We compete a little bit. He's faster than me, but it's always been fun," Jane said. "He's always been a very big support and always is down to help for pacing for workouts, or for tempos, or for interval workouts, so I'm very grateful for him."

But every day didn't make for a one-on-one battle for the training partners. Most days would start with runs in the early morning hours, John tagging along with Jane, Isaac and Eric as they logged their miles around the neighborhood. 

It was a time for the Hedengrens to not only embrace the simplicity of sport, but to share those experiences with each other. John and Jane, in particular, saw their bond deepen because of it.

"Every day, we'd go out for a workout and we became really close. We got to talk a lot and just train together that whole season," John said. "I look back on that year and just think we didn't actually lose anything. Those are just some of my favorite memories of running with them."

And it fostered a competitive yet friendly bond the father-daughter duo has embraced in the months that have passed since the shutdown's peak. 

Normalcy resumed in time for Jane's freshman year at Timpview, she said, and shortly thereafter she saw the rewards of those training days with dad come to fruition. 

Despite suffering a long bout with mononucleosis in the fall of 2021, Jane still finished second at the Utah Class 5A state cross country championships in 18:16.50, a PR at the time.

Following a month or so of recovery, Jane tenaciously bounced back to win the 1,600m at the indoor state meet, a moment she vividly remembers as one of the most electric races of her career.

Then came the outdoor state meet, where Jane's fiery determination elevated her game, completing the difficult distance double with wins in the 1,600m and 3,200m.

Just look at race photos from her championship-winning races to see a young runner experiencing the sport in the purest way possible, with a cheesy grin lighting up Jane's face and open-faced palms thrown up in the air. 

Thoughts of appreciation swarmed in Jane's mind as she emphatically crossed the finish in both title-winning races -- appreciation for the competition, the support and the fight.

"It's just so cool that I do get the opportunity to race," she said. "I love racing, so the main thing was feeling very grateful."

Watching on in those moments, John said he knew Jane was waist-deep in her element. 

What more could a father ask for than to see his daughter enjoying the same sport he's given most of his life to?

"It's just so fun to see her with that attitude. I love that," he said. "She just loves racing. She just looks forward to it."

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Like Father, Like Daughter

The opening months of the 2022 cross country season have been a game-changer for Jane as she continues to seek new challenges.

It began with her season debut at the Pre Region 8 meet on Aug. 19 when she not only grabbed her first individual cross country win of her high school career, but snagged a new 5K personal best of 17:46.00 in the process.

Just a week later, she secured another win and all-time record under her belt, this time for three miles at the UIAAA Invitational, clocking 17:10.80.

In line with her naturally-competitive spirit, Jane said she sees those races as only the first rungs of the ladder. She knows she can keep climbing toward greater heights. She also hopes her back-to-back personal bests serve as catalysts for more goal-reaching, which includes potentially winning a Utah state cross country title and qualifying for Team Cross Country Nationals in Portland, Oregon. 

John knows that if Jane has her mind set on those goals, she'll dive into them full-throttle. He could have told you that when she was just a middle-schooler already invested in breaking records.

Sure, dad established the running culture that embodies the Hedengren household when his children were just toddlers.

But now as Jane and his oldest kids have grown, so has their own autonomous devotion to the sport, perhaps something he couldn't have even imagined. 

"I love that they're into running," John said. "They've each told me individually -- the three oldest -- they're like, 'Hey, you got me started on it, but it's my thing now. I really enjoy it.' They've taken ownership of it and they don't feel like I pressured them."

But there's something special about the nuanced relationship between Jane and John. Perhaps it's because they're both self-described competition-seekers at heart. 

They aren't just a father-daughter duo or coach-athlete. When it boils down to it, they're the best of friends.

"I love that they're into running. They've each told me individually -- the three oldest -- they're like, 'Hey, you got me started on it, but it's my thing now. I really enjoy it.' They've taken ownership of it and they don't feel like I pressured them."

But as a tough-as-nails racer, Jane doesn't want to turn the competitive dial down a notch now that she has an individual state title under her belt. Instead, it's time to ramp up the competition.

That goal, she said, will hopefully come, as long as she properly balances reaching for the stars per usual and honing in on the sport's simplicities.

"Once I do those things and I go back to the basics, then I'll be able to do some cool things," she said, "Qualifying for bigger meets, getting some fast times, but just worrying about the things I can control, and then hopefully that can all pay off."

And the goal for John? He wants to simply stay in shape to keep up with his oldest daughter for as long as possible. Hopefully, he said, it'll be another year or two before he can't keep up with the rapidly-improving Jane any longer.

"That's my goal over her high school (career), to stay fast enough so I can train with her and pace her on workouts," he said. "But she's getting faster and it's getting harder."

But until that happens, Jane and John take running day-by-day, with Jane continually pursuing challenges and John along for the pursuit as a proud dad, mentor and runner himself.

"You feel that as a parent having gone through that as well," John said. "You know that's the whole process of who they're becoming, not just as a runner, but as an individual who is able to meet challenges with tenacity, and I see that happening."

John has no doubt that Jane will fight on through the ebbs and flows of the sport. He even knew that, he said, after that 400m repeat workout from Jane's sixth grade year.

He sees the fiery competitor in his daughter -- like father, like daughter.

Maybe that's why they work so well together, as father-daughter, as coach-athlete, as best friends at heart. 

It's clear as day to John and the Hedengren family that Jane has a special talent and mentality.

Now, as she takes ownership of the sport she loves and chases after goals bigger than a sixth-grade mile record, they relish having a part in that journey. 

Jane says she feels more than glad to bring her father and the rest of the family along for the ride.

"We've grown really close through running," she said. "I love them and it's just really fun and I'm grateful that we can share it together."