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Wade Denniston, USU Athletic Media Relations
Utah State senior Tori Parkinson (center) competes in the USU-hosted Sagebrush Invitational earlier this season in Logan, Utah.

When Tori Parkinson was in ninth grade, she decided to try out for her school’s volleyball team.

However, things didn’t work out the way Parkinson hoped they would — she got cut.

“I was so mad, so I told myself I was going to get in shape and try out next year,” Parkinson recalled. “I joined the cross-country team for the summer training and I started running. We had an intra-squad meet and I won. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, maybe this is my talent.’ I just stuck with it and played softball, too. When I finally quit softball, my times got even better after that.”

Parkinson never did try out for volleyball again. Instead, she focused on her new-found love of running and that decision paid off in a big way.

The Cache Valley native ended up being a seven-time letterwinner in cross-country and track and field at Mountain Crest High School in Hyrum, where she led the Mustangs to a state championship in 2012 and second-place finish in 2011.

After a meet during her junior season, Parkinson met former Utah State distance coach Steve Reeder, who expressed interest in her becoming an Aggie.

“When I talked to coach Reeder after one of the Cache-Box meets, he said I was pretty good, and I honestly had never even considered being a college athlete,” Parkinson said. “I just thought only the most amazing athletes competed in college. Coach Reeder kind of sparked that in me, but I never imagined I would be one.”

She may never have imagined that happening, but that is exactly what happened.

After wrapping up her stellar prep career, Parkinson took her talents to Utah State, where she has competed as a distance runner for the Aggies since her freshman season in 2013-14.

Due to a stress fracture in her right femur, Parkinson missed the 2016 cross-country season and had to redshirt. That injury has proven to be a blessing in disguise.

“I kind of spread my college career out a little bit so I could stay here another semester, and I’m actually honestly really glad I got injured,” Parkinson said.

Second-year Utah State assistant distance coach Sarah Griggs is certainly glad to have the redshirt senior back for the 2017 cross-country campaign.

“Although I wasn’t happy that Tori was injured last season, it’s worked out really well for this year and we’re really grateful to have her,” Griggs said. “She has performed consistently in our top-five runners and has performed awesome this year. We’re really excited to have her back. It’s been great.”

It certainly has. Parkinson and the Aggies are having their best season in school history. Heading into this Friday’s Mountain West Cross Country Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Utah State is ranked 12th nationally.

On top of that, the Aggies have finished in the top four in all five of their meets this season, including placing first three times and second once.

“It’s an excitement that I haven’t felt on this team before,” Parkinson said. “When you do well individually, it’s fun, but having our team do so well, that is so fun. I haven’t felt that before.”

Parkinson has done her part in helping Utah State reach heights it never has before. The native of Wellsville, Utah, ran a 20:44.0 in the women’s 6-kilometer race at the Pre-National meet in Louisville, Kentucky, finishing 49th overall and helping the team place fourth.

“Tori has a lot of enthusiasm,” Griggs said. “She is very bubbly and you always know where Tori is, so she provides that even during races. She and Cierra (Simmons) are known to talk during races and help each other out — chatter as you run encouraging each other. She brings a lot of strengths to the team and is really good at hills. She pulls her team up the hills, so she’s been able to work with her team in that way.”

Prior to Pre-Nationals, Parkinson and the Aggies took first at the Lehigh-hosted Paul Short Run in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Parkinson returned from her injury during the 2017 indoor track and field season and placed eighth in the mile at the Mountain West Championships. During the outdoor season, though, she placed 19th in the quarterfinals of the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 11:20.46 at the NCAA West Preliminary Championships in Austin, Texas.

“Coming back off of my injury and making it to first rounds in track was a pretty big deal,” Parkinson said. “That was a goal I had set for myself, so it was cool to reach that goal.”

Parkinson’s name is scattered all over the school record books. Indoor-wise, she ranks first all-time in the 4,000-meter distance medley relay (11:49.14) and eighth in the 3,000 meters (9:48.98). She also owns the fifth-fastest time in the DMR (11:54.62).

And for the outdoor season, Parkinson is third all-time in school history in the steeplechase (10:21.68) and sixth in the 5,000 meters (17:12.57).

The daughter of Kent and Wendy Parkinson takes care of business in the classroom as well. After all, she is a six-time academic all-Mountain West honoree, a four-time MW Scholar-Athlete and two-team USTFCCCA All-Academic Team recipient.

“I’m so glad that I ran for Utah State. It’s the best decision I ever made,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson isn’t ready to see it all come to an end just yet, though. She envisions the Aggies becoming the first women’s team in program history to qualify for the NCAA Championships.

“I want to go out and know that I accomplished something that I came here to do,” Parkinson said. “I want to go out and know that I gave everything I had and there was nothing left, and I think that will make me maybe not be quite as sad when it’s over.”

When she is not focused on her schoolwork or running, Parkinson enjoys spending time outdoors, whether it be hiking or rock climbing. She is also a big fan of chocolate.

“If I could eat chocolate instead of real meals, I would,” Parkinson said with a laugh. “I don’t like real food that much. I really like chocolate more than most things.”

What is Parkinson’s favorite chocolate treat?

“These Oreo balls that I make,” she said. “They are like Oreo and cream cheese, and you dip them in dark chocolate. It’s so good.”

Perhaps that is the real reason Parkinson enjoys running so much.

“Yes, exactly,” she said. “Every time I go for a run and I don’t want to run that extra mile, I think, ‘Oh, but I can eat another Oreo ball if I run this.’”

Parkinson, who is majoring in public health with an emphasis in industrial hygiene, is on track to graduate this December. After that, she eventually wants to go to physician’s assistant school.

Where does she see herself 10 years from now?

“Hopefully, I’m a physician’s assistant somewhere and I’ve traveled the world, and maybe some really lucky guy will have decided to be with me,” Parkinson said.

Griggs is not ready for Parkinson’s career to be over.

“I’m going to miss her enthusiasm,” Griggs said. “When there is that enthusiasm on a team, it’s contagious. Running is a grind sometimes and when you go out on a 10-mile run, you need a little bit of enthusiasm in there. Having someone on the team who brings that excitement and enthusiasm is really important.”