She Plans to Perfect Her Precision

Inside a South Philadelphia shooting range, a man rattles off round after round of ammunition using a high-powered 357 magnum. Just a few lanes away, Sloane Milstein — equipped with ear muffs and eye protection — methodically positions her feet, loads a small pellet into an air pistol, then slowly raises her gun straight ahead. With seemingly endless, piercing shots ringing out in the background, Milstein pulls the trigger, sending a single pellet through the middle of a circular target.

In the span of a few minutes, the other shooter unloads bullet after bullet, while Milstein shoots only two or three pellets. For her, success is measured by performing the same breathing, loading and shooting techniques for every single shot. And the calmer she is, the more accurate her aim.

"Sometimes, I can actually hear my heart rate dropping," said Milstein, who competes in national and international women's air-pistol shooting contests.

Milstein, 32, was not always a shooter. Growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, she spent much of her time competing in horseback-riding competitions. In her 20s, she combined her love of equestrian events with running, swimming, fencing and shooting, to compete in the modern pentathlon. Over the course of three years, Milstein competed in the national championships at the Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs, and at one point was ranked 15th in the country.

By 2002, however, a rotator-cuff injury forced Milstein to put the pentathlon on the back burner — all except the shooting. So while she rehabilitated her shoulder, she practiced the low-impact art of shooting, and realized that she might be on to something.

"As you get through the sport, it becomes a lot more mental," she said of the Olympic event, "because physically picking up the gun and squeezing the trigger is not that big of a deal."

Milstein earned an accounting degree from the University of New Mexico in 1995. In 2002, she garnered a graduate degree in sports management at Temple University.

During her graduate studies, she also sought out real-life experience in the field at the JCCs of Greater Philadelphia, where she worked as an office assistant helping with the JCC Maccabi games in 2001. After a shakeup in the organization, she became the assistant games director and then a delegation head — a position that took her to Maccabi Games in Montreal, San Antonio and Houston, where she oversaw all activities for the 13- to 16-year-old Philadelphia athletes.

During that time, Milstein also wrote a business plan for the JCC-run Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, hoping to develop its marketing, education and induction processes. The organization liked her ideas so much that they appointed her the executive director of the Hall of Fame. During her two-year tenure, she oversaw the expansion of the museum to include an exhibit featuring a mock locker room decorated with personal memorabilia from inducted Jewish athletes.

In 2003, she left to train full-time as a women's air-pistol shooter, and is currently ranked 12th in the country, according to USA Shooting, the national governing body for Olympic shooting sports. Though she's among the best in the country, she's not a member of the U.S. team, which means that she has to pay for her own training and travel costs.

Milstein is no stranger to trying to raise money. In 2002, while still a modern pentathlete, she founded Hopefuls USA — a nonprofit organization that currently helps 12 athletes secure the funds needed to train and compete at a high level. The group sponsors fundraisers, and also tries to secure private grants.

And for Milstein, those dollars give her some peace of mind.

"With the sport being so mental, it's great not worrying how you're going to pay your next food or gasoline bill," she said.

Moving forward, she is hoping to be hired as the equestrian coach at Connecticut's Sacred Heart University, but will still train in shooting and work toward the U.S. trials for the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing.

"I have as good of a shot, at this point, as anyone else."


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