Not many Montanans can say they have competed in the Olympics, but Monica Tranel, candidate for our state’s new congressional seat, has—twice, on the U.S. Women’s Rowing team.
She came to rowing relatively late in life, having discovered the sport while attending college at Gonzaga.
“I saw an intramural crew rowing on the river, and I thought, ‘I’d like to try that,” she said. It turned out her years of ranch work had made her well-suited to the rigors of propelling a boat at high speed, using nothing but muscle.
Tranel moved around Montana as a child, attending kindergarten in Miles City, grade school at Ashland and St. Labre on the Cheyenne reservation, Middle school in Broadview, and then commuting 40-miles to Billings to attend Central Catholic High School. “Miles City was the only ‘city’ I ever lived in until I went to college,” she said.
Her family is big: she has five brothers and four sisters, and all of them spent a good part of their childhood working on the ranch.
“We were constantly outdoors, even when we weren’t doing ranch work,” she said. “We’d go sledding under the northern lights, and in summer we’d sleep outside almost every night.”
Having a lot of siblings made her competitive, and she honed her physical skills playing basketball with her brothers.
“Between ranch life and playing sports, I’ve always been a really driven, outdoorsy person,” she said.
At Gonzaga, Tranel was looking around for a sport to participate in when she happened upon rowing.
“I tried out for the crew team, and at one point in trials, one of the other rowers said, ‘do you realize you just logged the best score in the country?’” said Tranel.“That opened the door to the world of top rowing.”
After just missing qualification for the ’92 Olympics, she earned a slot on the ’96 team in Atlanta. She was one of the team’s four rowers seated in the middle of the boat, called the Engine Room, which is reserved for the strongest members of the crew—they essentially provide the boat’s power.
“We finished 4th,” she explained, “a result that made me reassess things for sure.” Four years later, Tranel rowed single scull in the Sydney Olympics, finishing 12th.
In the meantime, she had earned a law degree from Rutgers in New Jersey and was practicing law.
“Because I grew up on a ranch, most of my practice has been regulatory work,” she said. “I do a lot of Public Service Commission (PSC) type stuff, mostly for ranch clients.”
In 2020, she entered politics, running for the PSC on her resume of 20 years of hands-on experience with utilities. Undaunted by her loss in that race, she has lately inaugurated her campaign for Montana’s new congressional seat.
“I got into politics because the Montana I grew up in and love is not being represented well,” she said. “When I was growing up, we didn’t vote for parties. We voted for people. This divisiveness is not who we are. Montanans, in my mind, are people who get things done. Politics should be about public service and solving problems.”
The pall of smoke hanging over Montana as she spoke provided her with a perfect example.
“These problems—like more and more frequent forest fires—are like ranch problems. You determine what the problem is, and then you ask, ‘how do we fix this?’”
Tranel said that whatever the solutions turn out to be, they will involve putting her head down and powering through with determination and hard effort—like she did in the Engine Room during her Olympic days.
She’s ready to put her ranching and Olympic background to work to power up her campaign.
Although her Olympic years are behind her, she still makes time to unwind on the water, rowing regularly and occasionally competing in local races.
“It makes me feel happy and connected to the two things I love deeply—Montana and Rowing.” MSN