When a teen excels at a sport, we often wonder about their future. Their potential is unknown, and so we ask ourselves: Do they have what it takes to be the best of the best?
Emily Houston Monroe was such a young hotshot. Her story isn’t widely known because like most, it hasn’t led to the Olympics. But what’s notable is that Monroe’s efforts with a rifle when she was young still took her where she wanted to go.
Monroe’s love of shooting started because of her competitive nature and her family. Her father is a competitive rifle shooter, and when he signed her brother up for the local Acorns Junior Rifle Club, Monroe wanted to tag along. “Why not?” said her father, who soon learned that Monroe was a natural with a .22 Marlin.
She did so well, in fact, that she quickly became one of the foremost junior three-position smallbore rifle competitors in the nation. At the age of 15, she earned 3rd place in the National Junior Olympic Championship.
“That same year, my junior rifle club won the national team matches at Camp Perry. We were the first junior team to sweep both the iron-sight and any-sight matches, and the icing on the cake was that we beat the Army Marksmanship Unit,” says Monroe.
College coaches started noticing Monroe, and put her name down in their recruiting books.
Then, she suffered a big downturn. “Like any athlete, I had my ups and downs. In my junior year of high school, when a lot of college coaches start looking for recruits, I blew it. I had several matches that I completely tanked,” Monroe recalls. Not a single coach called her. She was devastated. Her dream vanished.
A group of coaches and mentors encouraged her to go to college for a degree, not to “just shoot.” Monroe says she licked her wounds for a while, and then, opted to heed their advice.
“I decided to change my outlook. I chose to be all-in for academics so that shooting would be my ‘just-for-fun’ activity, rather than the source of stress and college funding. In the summer of 2006 I ended up graduating high school as a valedictorian, having taken 12 AP exams and college calculus and matrix algebra,” recalls Monroe.
She says her academic success came when she relaxed and went with the new plan. Meanwhile, she also won the NRA three-position air rifle national championship. “It was like that mindset change made everything click. I gave up on my Olympic dream, but I had an excellent college experience at MIT that included a lot of target shooting. I shot well, setting every school record.” Only one of those records has since been broken.
Monroe applied her competitive nature to MIT’s academic regimen and earned all As and two Bs. She also conducted research in fracture mechanics and designed medical devices as a student there. “I would never have known how much I am capable of had I continued on the path I dreamed up in middle school,” says Monroe.
Monroe also realized that by choosing to attend MIT, with its demanding academics, she took herself out of the running for an Olympic spot. “I had a fantastic shooting career in college. I got to pursue my passion in rifle shooting. I competed against NCAA Division 1 rifle teams while studying at the top engineering school in the world. It doesn’t get much better than that,” she says.
A maximum of two women are selected annually for the air rifle team and two for the smallbore team to represent the U.S. in the Olympics. “The athletes who shoot for America are at the top of their game, and they sacrifice a lot to get there. I guess you could say I did the cost-benefit analysis and chose to take the less-risky, less-rewarding path. But I’ve had a blast doing it,” says Monroe.
Obviously, she made the right choice for her. Right after college, she went to work for a medical-device manufacturer. “I enjoyed working in that industry and I learned a great deal, but my heart was not in it. I’d always heard that adage ‘When you have fun at your job, you won’t work a day in your life,’ but I hadn’t yet lived it out.”
In May 2013 Monroe’s brother emailed a blog post he’d seen stating that Ruger was hiring engineers. She submitted her resume, and unlike the college coaches, Ruger called her the next day. In a few weeks, she had an offer. She now works at the Newport, N.H., facility as a manufacturing engineer within the rifles division.
“I love working at Ruger,” she says. “Every day, I get to solve engineering challenges that lead to the production of an accurate, reliable firearm. Plus, I get to shoot at work. It doesn’t get much better than that!
“Target shooting is very systematic—inputs are controlled to achieve a precise and repeatable outcome,” says Monroe. “I’m not sure if I have always been a process-optimizing engineer drawn to a sport that reflects my personality, or if I’ve been shooting so long that I became process-oriented along the way. Whichever way it happened, I am a logical, systematic, data-driven person. That is true of most engineers! I started out wanting to major in math, but after taking a semester of theoretical multivariable calculus, I decided I needed to study something more concrete, with real-world application. Engineering fit the bill. A degree in mechanical engineering set me up to work on just about anything that moves, from cars to smart phones to shoes.”
“When I was at MIT, I never worried about being a female in a male-dominated field,” says Monroe. Most of my study buddies were my sorority sisters! Obviously, engineering remains male-dominated. However, engineering is a perfect fit for my personality so I definitely feel like I’m in the right field.”
And not only does she shoot at work, but she lives in New Hampshire with her husband. Having achieved the three-position smallbore distinguished rifleman badge and after winning the Ohio state smallbore rifle title in 2011, she continues to compete.
Monroe has been dabbling in other forms of shooting. “This past winter I built a biathlon rifle based on the Ruger American Rimfire Rifle and used it all season in races around New Hampshire and Vermont. I’ve tried IDPA and now I am getting prepared to go turkey hunting.
“I still love to shoot,” Monroe says. “I credit that to a more relaxed pace of training, and to making shooting something I do for fun.”