From ATA World Volume 19, Number 2 – Summer 2012
Dr. Harlan Van Over will never forget the day he almost died. It was
during World War II, and he was flying on a mission north of Berlin when his
B-17 was shot down. “We had three engines shut out and the fourth one was
smoking. I told myself, ‘Well, this is going to be it,’” says Van Over. The
plane went into a dive and crash-landed in a turnip field in Holland, but the
danger wasn’t over: They had to get out before the plane blew up, and then they
had to get to safety. “Off to the east you could see the Germans coming in their
trucks, and off to the west you could see the English coming in their trucks,”
he says. “We started walking toward the English trucks, and they got there ahead
of the Germans.”
Since that dramatic day, Van Over has been sure to make the most of his life – and he’s aimed high. He launched a successful career in engineering that took him to major companies around the country. In his 40’s he got his PhD and launched a second career as a university professor. And he’s been a semiprofessional baseball player, a competitive race-walker, and a loving husband and father.
So it was with characteristic determination that he walked into Morris Dynamics Martial Arts Training Center in Evansville, Ind., one day in 1982 to give Taekwondo a try. He was 59-years-old, well into middle age. And Senior Master Gary Morris was happy to see him.
And he’s still happy to see him, and on a regular basis, thirty years later. Today Van Over is a 5th Degree Black Belt, a judge and a supportive instructor who helps develop other martial artists.
“He’s been a great influence on the program from day one,” says Senior Master Morris. “There’s a pattern over and over again in his life: Whatever he’s wanted to do, he’s worked really hard to excel at it, and he’s become good at it.”
That includes becoming World Champion in sparring 1999 at the age of 76. “I was the runt of the competitors, size-wise. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll do the best I can,’” says Van Over. It was a close call (there was a tie that he won in sudden victory), but his best was good enough to win World Champion in his age group. “I was happy, to say the least. I remember when I got through with that I was tired; sweat was just running off me.”
Still, Van Over is not one to rest on his laurels; there’s always a new challenge or passion ahead. Now a month shy of 90, he heads to Morris Dynamics three days a week to train and frequently judges at tournaments and rank testings. “He’s one of the most motivated and disciplined individuals I’ve ever known in my life,” says his daughter, Cheryl (Joël) Van Over. “And the message he’s always given me and given his students is to find your own path. He supports other people – always making them feel confident that they know the right way for them and that they will find their passion and, when they do, they will find the motivation and discipline to succeed.”
Van Over’s motivation and discipline have undoubtedly helped him stay active and engaged at an age when many people are sedentary and struggling. “My doctor says, ‘If you hadn’t been doing Taekwondo, you’d probably be dead,’” says Van Over. “All the people I talk to in the medical profession say it’s done a lot for me – and to keep doing it as long as you can.” He still competes in Weapons when he can, and he went to World Championships last year.
When people ask him when he’s going to try for his 6th Degree Black Belt, he usually responds with a smile – noting that he won’t be eligible until age 92. “Stranger things have happened,” he says with a laugh. “As the saying goes, ‘Today not possible. Tomorrow possible.’”