This story originally appeared in the Fall 2019 edition of USA Triathlon Magazine.
Getting away actually helps her feel closer. The long runs and bike rides are more than physical exercise. They’re therapeutic.
They give her a chance to talk to her son, providing some solace for the many moments and conversations that have been lost.
They help, at least momentarily, erase some of the pain that came from the phone call she received seven years ago.
Janet Crane remembers vividly being at her home in Phenix City, Alabama, when she got the news that her son, Jason Edens — a U.S. Army specialist serving in Afghanistan — had been shot during combat. At the time, that’s all the information she had.
“We didn’t really know the extent of his injuries,” Crane said.
Three days later she and her husband, Mike, flew to Germany and then Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland to be at the bedside of her only child.
“You really try not to think about something bad happening. You pray that nothing bad happens. When it does, you’re in shock,” she said.
The empty feeling didn’t go away. On Thursday, April 26 of 2012, Jason passed away from his wounds. He was 22-years-old, survived by his wife, Ashley, his father, Jim Edens, and Crane.
Described by his mother as “inquisitive”, Jason joined the Army in 2009, with a goal of getting into law enforcement afterward.
Crane was surprised when he enlisted, but proud, noting that he was a “totally different person” after joining the Army — more mature.
He eventually paid the ultimate sacrifice in defending his country.
"Sometimes, I don’t think it’s set in. You think that maybe they’re still deployed and that they’re coming home,” Crane said. “But, it really hits reality when you go to the grave.”
Mike, Jason’s step-father, who knew him since he was four years old, said that Crane’s world “fell apart” after the loss of her son.
It’s why endurance sport is so important to her. It helps her feel connected — whole.
“Sometimes, I talk to him and tell him I need him to help me get through it,” Crane said.
Dealing with Loss
After Jason passed away, Crane had a choice to make.
“Some people go the negative route when they have a loss like this. They turn to drinking or drugs to mask the pain,” Crane said. “I know Jason would want me to keep it positive, to carry on and make him proud.”
So that’s what she did.
Crane had been a runner since 1991 when she was a 30-year-old new mom. As Jason grew up, she’d take him with her on runs, letting him play soccer with the other kids in the middle of the field while she’d run five miles around him on the track.
“That way I didn’t have to get a babysitter and he had fun, too,” Crane recalls.
After a few 5Ks and half-marathons, she did her first full marathon in 2004. But, running took on a much greater meaning after Jason’s death. It was both an outlet to deal with his loss and an opportunity to keep his memory alive.
Seven months after he passed away, “Team Jason” was born, as Crane and five others raced in his honor at the 2012 Soldier Marathon in Columbus, Georgia, his name printed on their race-worn wrist bands and shirts.
A few years later in 2015, the Garrison Commander at Fort Benning — where Jason was initially stationed — reached out to Crane about a group doing a triathlon relay race at IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta. She did the run that day, but the event planted the seed for her.
She wanted to do more.
Healing through Triathlon
Crane admits that when she first started looking into triathlon, it seemed like “a foreign language.” But she was determined. She bought a bike and began taking swim lessons.
“I decided that triathlon was something I needed. I was kind of getting bored with running, and this was more challenging,” Crane said.
She started small. A month shy of her 55th birthday in May of 2016, Crane completed her first solo triathlon — a sprint-distance race at Auburn University.
Next up was an Olympic-distance race in August. Then, a year after the relay, she did the half-IRONMAN all by herself at Augusta. Taking it one step at a time, she’s now completed 10 triathlons.
Crane’s most recent was perhaps her most monumental — her first full IRONMAN on September 29 in Chattanooga, the last place she saw her son before he deployed to Afghanistan.
It was the culmination of a journey that has already touched many in the multisport community.
“She’s used triathlon to help other people who are grieving, to give them an example of how there are other ways to get through whatever the circumstances are,” said her friend, Fe Godbey. “She inspires me very day, seeing that she keeps going.”
“It really has helped her,” said longtime friend Pam Cashman. “I know (Jason) would be proud of her.”
Spectators see and hear Jason’s story all over the country. His support crew is hard to miss.
Friends and family, sometimes more than 10 people at a particular race, don infantry blue “Team Jason” hats, shirts, wrist bands, bike jerseys and even tri tops to commemorate their fallen hero. Crane receives messages all the time from people saying that their swim, bike or run that day was done in honor of Team Jason.
“Putting it out there and letting people know that we have a higher purpose, it’s not just about racing, it’s about keeping his memory alive,” Crane said.
One of those memories she has is from when Jason was a teenager and wanted to go on a run with her. He had been training for the moment. She laughs, recalling the story of how he had to cut corners just to stay with his fit mom.
He couldn’t keep up with her back then. But he’s with her in spirit every step of the way now, pushing and inspiring her on this triathlon journey.
Contact USA Triathlon Social Media and Video Content Coordinator Nick Hehemann at firstname.lastname@example.org.