Claire Overfelt remembers the first time she saw karate action.
She was 8 years old. Her big brother was taking lessons at a local dojo.
Instantly, she was hooked.
“I just went to one class once, and I really enjoyed it,” said Overfelt. But she no longer enjoys karate, she said — she loves it.
Story continues below gallery
And she’s a world champion.
A 13-year-old Greenwood resident, Overfelt won an age group gold medal at last week’s World Union of Karate Federations World Karate Championships in Dublin, Ireland.
In a field of about 50 competitors, Overfelt accumulated the most points in the 13 to 14 age group. The championships consisted of three rounds.
For Overfelt, who earned in her black belt in December, the overseas sojourn was just as thrilling as the tournament.
She had never traveled abroad before.
“It was really cool,” she said. “It was a different experience for me because of all of the different accents and stuff. That was really cool.
“Also, we got to see some towns that showed some of the culture of Ireland. It was very green.”
Karate was her trip ticket.
An eighth-grader at Clark-Pleasant Middle School, Overvelt is in her fifth year at Shodan Karate Academy in Greenwood. She started as a beginner and is now one of the dojo’s most accomplished athletes.
“She came in as a little one, and now she’s 13 and is one of our star students,” said Michelle Guerrero, who co-owns the dojo with her husband, Ricardo Guerrero, the chief instructor and former member of the U.S. National Karate Team.
Overfelt trains twice a week at Shodan and works out five days a week at a dojo set up in the garage of her family home. Workouts last anywhere from one to three hours.
Moreover, Overfelt competes in one to two tournaments a month, sometimes out of state, sometimes at the Shodan school.
“She’s a perfectionist,” Michelle Guerrero said. “Of course, she’s not afraid of hard work. None of our kids are afraid of hard work, but there’s always those certain kids that just do a little bit more, go a little bit farther, train outside of the dojo and kind of make that their focus.
“She’s pretty dedicated all the way from not only her training but her diet and exercise. She’s pretty hard core about it.”
To the point where she watches no TV, takes few days off from training and makes just enough time for her other passion, playing the piano.
“There are always new challenges, and I like setting goals and completing them,” she said. “I just enjoy being around the (karate) team and having fun with them.”
Movie stereotypes notwithstanding, karate — at least the competitive type — is not a blood sport. It’s a measured, controlled, skill-driven discipline where opponents are trying score points, not knock each other out.
That’s why Overfelt’s parents are not only OK with it but encourage it.
“It’s something she can do for the rest of her life. It’s not just learning certain skill sets,” said Michelle Overfelt, Claire’s mom. “If done properly, the martial arts are geared toward holistic lifestyle changes and personal growth.
“I like that. As far as the risks involved, there are (some). People can get injured, and they do. It’s always in the back of my mind.
“In competitive karate, the intention is not to injure your opponent. The intention is to come as close to making contact as if was an actual altercation.”
Hurting an opponent, or getting hurt, are the furthest things from Claire’s mind when she competes.
Karate, after all, is not really a fight. It’s a pairing of skill, determination, discipline and self-control — all the things she loves about sport.
“Some people look at is all the punching and kicking and hurting people, but it’s really more of an independent thing,” Claire said. “It’s not really about the people you’re going against. It’s more about yourself and how you put yourself out there.
“You don’t worry the other person whenever you’re fighting. You worry about yourself and what you’re going to do next. It’s about doing your best.”
Name: Claire Overfelt
Distiction: Won age group gold medal at the World Union of Karate Federations World Karate Championships in Dublin, Ireland
Hobbies: Piano, reading
Favorite book: Harry Potter series
Favorite movies: Harry Potter series:
Parents: Eric and Michelle Overfelt
Siblings: Brother Collin, 15; sisters Campbell, 11, Chloe, 8 and Vanessa, 7