For the last eight years, Clare Egan ’10 has dedicated herself to her sport. In season, she trains six days a week, including weekends and holidays. She is on the road seven months out of the year, traveling to races and training camps and events. There is little financial reward in being a full-time athlete when you’re an American and your sport is biathlon, but Clare has had her eyes on a bigger prize: representing the U.S. at the Olympics.
In February, that dream was realized when Clare walked with the rest of the U.S. delegation in the opening ceremonies of the winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“It was a moment I will never forget,” Clare says. “It’s hard to describe it, because it just seemed so unreal.”
Realizing a dream can be like that, especially when the journey takes a long and somewhat unusual path. In high school, Clare was a competitive cross-country skier, while also running track and cross country. Despite offers from Division I schools, she decided to attend Wellesley, where she could participate in sports but still have time for other pursuits, like singing in the choir and spending her junior year abroad. “I made that choice as a high school senior to not be a full-time athlete, and then basically as a college senior, [I decided] now I want to go back into being an athlete.”
With a full year of NCAA eligibility left because of her study abroad, Clare took an opportunity to be a Division I athlete at the University of New Hampshire while pursuing a master’s degree in linguistics. She ran cross country for UNH in the fall, was a cross-country skier in the winter, and then ran track in the spring. “It was extremely intense, but I loved it,” Clare says.
After graduating from UNH, Clare decided to continue pursuing cross-country skiing at a high level and joined the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, an elite ski program in Vermont. There, she worked part-time at the outdoor center in exchange for having her living and skiing expenses covered. That’s also where she discovered biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing, something Clare excels at, with target shooting, something she had never done before.
“Nothing prepared me for the psychological struggle of biathlon,” Clare says. “In biathlon, on any given day, you can win the race or get last.” The target shooting is the source of much of the volatility, because a missed shot means a penalty lap or a time penalty, depending on the competition.
During her Olympic competition, Clare experienced the full gamut of biathlon results personally. In her first race, she finished 61st, after missing three targets. In her final race, she didn’t miss a single one. “It’s a special thing to do and I did that, which I was so excited about,” Clare says. The fact that it was part of a team event, the 4x6km relay, made it even better. “We had our best relay performance in years,” Clare says. The team finished 13th in an extremely competitive field, with a time just two minutes off from the medal winners.
Although Clare tried to soak in as much as she could during her Olympic experience, it ended all too quickly. She was back on the biathlon circuit less than a week later, readying for a World Cup race in Finland. “The biggest challenge I’ve had in the last eight years as a full-time athlete is keeping it fun,” Clare says. “As a full-time athlete, there’s no financial compensation, so you have to find a different kind of reward.”
For the last eight years, that reward had been the Olympics. So what now? “In all likelihood, I’ll be done after this year,” Clare says. “I’ve already gotten so much out of this experience that I would be satisfied if I left it behind at this juncture. I think.”
She laughs. “But maybe one more year.”