They told her to quit running. Now Utah’s Emily Venters will race for a national championship.

After years of mounting injuries, Venters transferred to Utah and rediscovered her form.

The finish line was approaching, and everyone except for Emily Venters seemed to realize it.

Her mother, who cried as she watched her daughter in pain, kept asking Venters to move on with her life. Her body, which had broken down as her bone density plummeted, seemed to be signaling it would be the end of her running career. Even the coaches at Colorado, who were mostly uninterested in watching a fifth-year senior try to push through injury, told Venters her time as a competitive runner was over.

But Venters couldn’t say that. For some reason after she graduated from Colorado in 2021, she felt she had something left after years of injuries and disappointments.

So she entered her name in the transfer portal one last time and waited. If a coach called, she would pick up. If nobody wanted her, she’d move on.

“I definitely did not have as many offers the second time around,” said Venters, who started her collegiate career at Boise State before transferring to Colorado. “... Everyone around me was telling me that maybe for my own mental health I better not [continue running]. The whole time, I still wanted to do it.”

Utah was one of the few that called. The coach, Kyle Kepler, said he didn’t care if Venters ever returned to the form she had before the injuries — when she posted multiple top-10 finishes and was one of the best 1500-meter runners in the country.

He was taking a chance on the person.

He got the racer, too.

Two years after her career probably should have ended, Venters is posting some of the best 10,000-meter times in the country and just punched her ticket to the NCAA Championships this month in Austin, Texas. In her last gasp at her career, she is threatening to win a national title.

“I felt like a lot of people had given up on me. I felt like the coach at Colorado had 100% given up on me. And even my parents, it was hard for them to watch me struggle,” Venters said. “I’m really glad I trusted myself and my gut.”

Before this resurgence, though, it was understandable why everyone around her had urged her to leave the sport.

Coming out of high school, Venters immediately popped at Boise State. She made it to the NCAA West Regional and eventually placed in her first NCAA Championship race during cross country. In outdoor track, she represented the country in the 2018 Great Edinburgh Cross Country Challenge in Scotland.

She followed that up as a sophomore with a second NCAA Championship race appearance in cross country and had a top-five finish during indoor track.

But then the injuries hit. She couldn’t participate in the outdoor track season. When she went home in the summer, she decided to transfer to Colorado for a better academic situation in psychology.

At Colorado, things got worse. She redshirted the 2019-20 season due to lingering injuries. The next year COVID-19 canceled part of the season. And by the time 2021 rolled around, she was still hurt. It had been almost two years since she last reached her old form and people were restless for her to either produce or walk away. At Colorado, she never ran a race.

“I knew that I could get myself back there [to my sophomore year form] if I was in the right environment, right state of mind,” Venters said.

And that is when Utah came into the picture. In the past, most of Venters’ coaches expected her to anchor the group and be the best runner. Utah said it wouldn’t need Venters to break records. The pitch was for the veteran to mentor the others.

“I think it was a lot of weight off my shoulders that I had a coach who wasn’t going to count on me to get back to running what I had done before,” Venters said. “But he just wanted me to do it and end my college career on a good note.”

It has worked out for both sides. In two years at Utah, Venters has steadily gotten back to her winning ways. It culminated this week with Venters running the 10,000 meters in 32 minutes and securing a place In the NCAA Championship race. Her final race in college will be right back where she started.

It probably shouldn’t have happened. Everyone around Venters will say that. Everyone except Venters.