DURHAM, N.H. – Coming out of Cape Elizabeth High School in 2006, Clare Egan wasn’t sure just how much of a priority she wanted her cross country skiing to be in college, how much time and energy she wanted to invest in the sport.

The notion sounds kind of funny in hindsight.

This week, Egan heads to the NCAA Division I skiing championships in Stowe, Vt., as a leader of the University of New Hampshire ski team and a contender for Nordic All American honors.

A 2010 graduate of Wellesley College, Egan ran cross country and track at the Division III school in Massachusetts for three years and started a ski team as soon as she got there. She wanted more.

“Clare’s been just a fabulous addition to our team,” UNH ski coach Cory Schwartz said. “You add another top athlete to the team and it definitely changes the atmosphere and makes it more competitive. Combine that with her personality, she’s definitely outgoing and confident, and it’s helped us take that next step.”

For Egan, a UNH graduate student working on a master’s in linguistics, it’s been a bonus season.

“Every day when I wake up, I think how lucky I am to be here,” said Egan in a classroom in the UNH Field House. “It was a dream I didn’t think was going to come true.”

Hers has been an unorthodox journey to the NCAAs, a trip that included spending a year studying abroad in Italy and Switzerland and an athletic career at Wellesley that never quite met her expectations.

Egan finished third in the 5-kilometer freestyle and 11th in the 15K classical event at the Bates Carnival, which served as the Eastern Regionals, a week ago at Black Mountain in Rumford.

She is seeded sixth in the East, just ahead of teammates Liz Guiney and Natasha Kullas.

“This is probably one of the better women’s teams during my tenure,” said Schwartz, who has been at UNH for 26 years. “Any of these three women could be All Americans on a given day.”

The top 10 finishers in both the 5K freestyle, scheduled for Wednesday at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, and the 15K classical race on Friday, earn All American honors.

Egan actually qualified to compete in the NCAA championships last year at Steamboat Springs, in Colo., as an individual skier representing Wellesley.

“One of my goals is to do better than last year,” she said. “I’m confident I can do that. I’m having my best ski season ever. It’s been huge having a coach and it’s indescribable how much help it’s been to have people to train and race with.”

Last year, Egan turned in 25th and 30th finishes at Steamboat.

Those results in the NCAAs helped convince Egan that her dream was feasible.

Early on at Wellesley, she started considering the idea of spending a graduate year in Division I. With that in mind, she spent her entire junior year abroad, allowing her to retain a full season of NCAA eligibility.

The time away from competition fueled her, too.

“It pumped me up for my senior year at Wellesley,” Egan said. But then she had a rough fall cross country season. “I trained real hard and had another crappy season.”

Egan busted to work and train through college, but felt her race results in both running and skiing had never lived up to her training and she couldn’t figure out why.

After her senior running season at Wellseley, she decided to go off birth control.

The changes were sudden and dramatic and she came up with her best skiing season, capped by the NCAA finishes, and followed up with a sixth-place result in the 1,500 meter run at the Division III NCAA track championships in Cleveland.

“I think it’s a small part of my story, but a part of it,” Egan said. “I struggled with college athletics and then all of a sudden I’m going to the NCAAs in skiing and I’m sixth in the country in track. And I think it’s something that probably affects other female endurance athletes.”

Her improving results helped open the door to competing as a graduate student and Egan looked into UNH, which she had considered coming out of high school, and Vermont, among other schools.

Some scholarship money from the Wildcat track team played a role in sealing her decision.

“Better late than never,” Schwartz said.

Egan contributed to UNH’s second-place finish in the America East cross country championships last fall and soon will start preparing for the outdoor track season.

She also hopes to continue competing as a skier next season.

Don’t bet against her, advises Mindy Mangels, at Wellesley.

As associate athletic director at the school, it was her job to make certain Egan knew if she wanted to compete in skiing while at Wellesley that she would be on her own and should expect little support from the school.

And after Egan formed a club team and sought funding and hustled up teammates and did some coaching and later qualified for the NCAAs and then decided to compete as a graduate student, it was Mangels who dealt with NCAA compliance issues and helped work it all out.

“She’s just an incredible person, unlike any other I’ve seen come through here,” Mangels said. “It’s her personality and how talented and driven she is. Probably 10 other kids just like Clare have said I want to do this and want to do that and you tell them how tough it’s going to be and they say, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’ And Clare did it. She’s a cool kid.”