When Sally Li arrived at TCU in August, she was pleasantly surprised by the campus.
“I had seen pictures online, but it was way better in person,” Li said.
Li, a first-year student from Singapore, spent most of her time during her last years of schooling dreaming about and researching for universities in the U.S. that fit her checklist.
Her list of options included TCU, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alaska, and Ohio State. All of which have top rifle programs.
Eventually choosing TCU, she became the first international student to ever join the rifle team.
“I took a chance,” TCU rifle head coach Karen Monez said.
Li started communications with Monez via email during her first year of high school in 2011. In Singapore, high school is only two years.
Monez was impressed with Li’s air rifle scores, academics and willingness to commit to the smallbore event, a style she had not yet mastered.
“I was able to totally build her from the ground up,” Monez said.
The Moncrief Hall resident practices at the TCU Rifle Range 15-plus hours a week.
Though she has only trained for smallbore since September, she currently has the second highest average smallbore score with 577.20.
She also has the highest average aggregate score for the team with 1,165, and ties with sophomore Hannah Black for the leading air rifle average at 587.80.
The competitive nature of U.S. sports is what brought Li here in the first place.
Back in Singapore, students at Li’s secondary school were required to join a club of their choice. She was drawn to the rifle and pistol club because it was a unique sport, but she ended up being one of the only of her friends to stick with it through high school.
“They thought it was boring and hard,” she said. “I myself think it’s challenging, but it helps me with mental strength in everything I do.”
At TCU, she uses that strength as she faces challenges off the range.
Having to manage her time and choose her own classes has been difficult, she said. Not to mention having to adjust to a 13-hour time zone difference and the food at the Brown-Lupton University Union.
The 19-year-old currently studies nutrition at TCU, a decision she made through a combination of her extensive training in chemistry in high school, as well as her love for food.
“I think I’ll be a dietician,” she said, cracking a smile.
That would be the plan — if she didn’t have bigger goals in mind.
Li, who is a member of Singapore national team, said she hopes to eventually compete in the Olympics and then go on to pursue rifle after college.
Li may have a quiet and reserved demeanor, but, Monez said, the scoreboard speaks for itself.
“Usually you can identify those shooters that do have some talent, but you can’t truly say they will be a champion,” she said. “Just in the few months I’ve worked with her, I know she has the talent and everything she needs to go to the championship level.”
This story was updated at 12:11 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov.12.