CAPE ELIZABETH — For years, Steve Price had wanted to stage a production of Peter Pan for the Cape Elizabeth Middle School theater.

But how could he find an eighth-grader who could pull off such a demanding lead role? That was a problem for the veteran science and math teacher.

Then, in 2001, Clare Egan came along.

“Light enough to fly, athletic enough to manage herself in the air,” Price remembered. “Had the pipes and the music to learn that huge part and sing it and command the stage.”

Clare Egan was ranked 56th entering this season, which has not gone as well as she hoped. She’s now ranked 78th. Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty

Egan, now 30, still has a knack for combining disparate elements into a satisfying whole. She will represent the United States in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, as a biathlete, the unusual sport that combines precision riflery with cross-country skiing.

“Biathlon is very different from any other sport I’ve done,” she said. “The more pressure you put on yourself to succeed, the less likely you are to achieve it.”

Imagine trying to thread a needle after running a road race, and you get an idea of biathlon’s challenge. Competitors ski through the woods with a .22-caliber rifle strapped to their back. At measured intervals, they glide into a shooting range and attempt to hit five targets from either prone or standing position. Missed shots mean penalties, in either time or added distance.

Biathlon is the only Winter Olympic sport in which the United States has never won a medal. Egan will compete in at least two – and up to four – individual events as well as two relays.

The mixed relay – featuring two men and two women – might be the best U.S. chance for a medal in a sport dominated by Europeans. Germany, Norway, Russia and France are the reigning biathlon powers. The U.S. mixed relay team placed eighth at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

Egan’s best World Cup finish is 16th, but clean shooting in a relay gives any team with decent ski speed a chance. She understands that a medal is unlikely, but she also knows it’s not impossible.

“There are a lot of things about biathlon that are appealing,” she said. “One is that anything can happen.”

FIRST-TIME OLYMPIAN

These Olympic Games will be the first for Egan, and likely her last. She nearly qualified for the 2014 Sochi Games as a biathlon newbie. By the 2022 Beijing Games she may well have a family of her own, so she aims to make the most of this opportunity.

On the eve of the PyeongChang Games, instead of fretting about the upcoming competition, she put out a call on social media to other athletes in hopes of forming an Olympic a cappella singing group.

For more than a year, she’s been studying Korean so she can better connect with folks from the host country. It’s her sixth language.

“Korean is one of the hardest languages for English speakers,” said Seok Bae Jang, a professor at Wellesley College. He tutored Egan from July to November, meeting two to three times a week through Google Hangouts.

In 2006, Clare Egan was a state champion runner and hurdler for Cape Elizabeth, where she also won team titles in Nordic skiing and cross-country. Staff photo/Jack Milton

Egan reached out to Jang after six months of self-study with a textbook and audio discs that had allowed her to say a few words last winter when the Biathlon World Cup tour touched down in PyeongChang. She could greet people, order food and recite her bib number. She surprised members of the Korean biathlon team as well as other Koreans she met.

“They tend to be really floored when I open my mouth and say something in Korean,” she said. “It’s a nice feeling to be able to talk to someone in their own language.”

She’s not fluent, but Jang said she’s already more proficient than college students at Wellesley – her alma mater – with a year of Korean under their belts.

As Egan wrote on her blog, “Learning another’s language is one of the greatest signs of respect, and in a time when the US is perhaps not viewed in the kindest light by our global neighbors I hope that my small voice can make a big impression.”

TALENTED IN SO MANY WAYS

That attitude and the willingness to put in extra work while also training for a sport among the most demanding – both physically and mentally – does not surprise those who have known Egan since her childhood days in Cape Elizabeth.

“She was always the fastest miler when we had to do the Presidential Physical Fitness Test,” said Mary-Katherine Huebener, a lifelong friend who now lives in Colorado. “She was just so talented at really everything she tried.”

She paused.

“Although bowling,” she said, “not so much.”

Huebener teaches band and orchestra to middle and high school students and coaches cross country. Over the summer she went on a long hike with her old friend when Egan visited Vail for a cousin’s wedding.

“Clare’s a very talented piano player and she played bass clarinet from fifth grade through 12th grade,” Huebener said. “She’s always been really musical.”

It was Huebener, in eighth grade, who convinced Egan to join Cape Nordic because Huebener was tired of being the only girl on the ski team.

“When I was about 9, I remember going over to her house and she was shooting cans or Gatorade bottles off a picnic table with a BB gun,” Huebener said. “Just a Maine kid. Maybe that’s where she got her love for biathlon.”

Price, a teacher for 25 years, had Egan in his advisory group at Cape Elizabeth Middle School as well as in his science class and for theater.

“She’s one of those kids who always came back to say ‘Hi,’ even since she’s gone off to college and now doing this,” he said. “She’s a person who lights up the room, but there isn’t any bravado that goes with it. She’s this wonderful humble, hard-working but very gifted person.”

In high school, Egan competed in three sports: cross country in fall, Nordic skiing in winter and track and field in spring.

Clare Egan stopped by Hannaford Cove on a brief visit home to Maine in June to attend the wedding of two high school friends. Staff photo by Glenn Jordan

David Weatherbie coached Egan in track and field. She won state titles at 1,600 meters as a freshman and 400 meters and the 300 hurdles (in back-to-back races) as a senior, when she was also runner-up at 1,600.

“There aren’t a lot of people who remember what a great track athlete she was,” Weatherbie said. “Hands down, that was her best sport in high school.”

ALWAYS STAYING BUSY

Egan was part of a state championship cross-country team and won an individual classical state title in Nordic skiing. She then chose a college, Wellesley, that had no ski program, so she started a club team.

“From skiing in high school to going to a college that didn’t have a ski team is something that other skiers probably wouldn’t have thought of,” said Deven Morrill, Egan’s Nordic coach at Cape Elizabeth.

Morrill said Egan was a gifted athlete with enormous aerobic capacity and a high threshold for pain. She enjoyed training, embraced the grind.

“Even on days when you would just plumb miss the wax, the kid had lungs the size of an elephant,” Morrill said. “She would just power her way through it.”

Despite training on her own at Wellesley – while also competing in track and cross country – Egan managed to qualify for the NCAA Nordic skiing championships as a senior. All this after a junior year abroad in Italy and Switzerland studying languages.

She can speak Spanish, French, Italian and German in addition to English and some Korean. After earning a degree in international communication from Wellesley in 2010, Egan spent a year at the University of New Hampshire earning a master’s degree in linguistics, while also using her remaining collegiate eligibility in her three sports.

Cory Schwartz, the Nordic coach at UNH, said he had recruited Egan when she was in high school and welcomed her to the Division I program.

“She hadn’t had much ski-racing coaching in previous years,” Schwartz said. “She was running on great talent. She has what coaches call a great motor.”

That athletics weren’t her singular focus but gave her another dimension.

“Clare has so many talents that sometimes she needs these other things to occupy her time or keep her motivated,” Schwartz said. “She’s artistic. She’s a musician. I think that’s why biathlon fits her, because she not only has to take care of cross-country training, but also take care of shooting and nutrition.”

WORKING HER WAY UP

After UNH, Egan moved to Vermont and joined the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, initially as a Nordic skier but eventually morphing into a biathlete. Algis Shalna, an Olympic gold medalist for the Russian biathlon relay team in Sarajevo in 1984, is a regional coach for the U.S. Biathlon Association and lives in Vermont. He taught Egan to shoot.

At the 2013 U.S. biathlon championships in Fort Kent, Egan came close enough to qualifying for Sochi that she knew, if she continued to train and improve, PyeongChang was within her grasp. And so, for the next four years, she lived and trained out of Lake Placid and gradually worked her way up the ladder of international biathlon.

Ranked 96th in the world in 2014-15, Egan climbed to 67th and then 56th entering this season, which has not gone as well as she hoped. She’s now ranked 78th and arrived in Korea after a 10-day quarantine from the rest of the U.S. team because of illness.

Her latest blog post includes this passage: “So much for preparing for the Olympics. I still may do okay, but I don’t think there’s any chance I’ll be skiing my best.”

Then again, Egan’s post also includes 18 behind-the-scenes photographs, two videos and a colorful Olympic-themed graphic designed by teammate Hannah Dreissigacker for the a cappella group.

One winter she posted photos of all the different beds in which she had slept while competing on the international circuit. Others show her in Halloween costumes. Behind everything is an author expressing curiosity, wonder and delight in all she encounters.

“My favorite part about her making the Olympics,” Huebener said, “is that she’s still Clare. She’s still a goof.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

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Twitter: GlennJordanPPH