Hinsdale South gymnast Nowak follows cousins’ success
Updated: February 11, 2013 1:58AM
DARIEN — Maddie Nowak grew up watching gymnastics.
Nowak and her mother, Sam, were regular spectators at Fremd gymnastics meets to see Maddie’s cousins, who rank among the best gymnasts in state history and led the Vikings to four state championships in seven years.
Now the Hinsdale South freshman is ready to make history of her own.
Nowak is a surprised by her early success. She finished second in the all-around in each of her invitationals, scoring 35.30 in the season opener at Hinsdale South and 36.65 at Hinsdale Central’s Red Devil Saturday.
Hinsdale South’s next highest all-arounder at Hinsdale Central was junior Jessica Hawken (33.50), who took seventh.
“(The first meet) really set the tone for the rest of the season,” Nowak said. “I was excited, not just for me but for the whole team. I was pretty nervous (before), but it helped me with my confidence.”
She was inspired by her cousins, Katie and Mary Burke, who went on to successful gymnastics careers in college.
“Maddie was a very good athlete, all-around,” Sam Nowak said. “She took a liking to gymnastics.”
Maddie also played softball growing up in Burr Ridge, but standing under 5 feet, she was the ideal size for gymnastics. She took off under the coaching of Jody Raymond, who runs Action Gymnastics club out of Hinsdale South’s facility. Many other Hinsdale South varsity gymnasts, including junior Taylor Daley and sophomore Lauren Haney, have trained with Action.
Nowak is just the latest Action product to have immediate success at the high school level. Another, Lyons sophomore Kelsy Kurfirst, won the state uneven bars title last season. Action gymnast Skylor Hilger, a Shepard freshman, will make her varsity debut Friday night at the Lyons Invitational.
“I thought she would be this successful,” Raymond said of Nowak. “She walked in when she started at age 10, and showed talent when she walked through the door. In time, she moved up the levels.”
Unlike many clubs, Raymond encourages his gymnasts to compete for their high school teams. He knows he is not producing future Olympians, who must devote a large portion of their lives to gymnastics.
Hinsdale South coach Jennifer Fichter was an assistant coach under Fremd’s Jim Guest when Mary Burke competed her final season. Burke swept all five events to lead the Vikings to the 2008 state title.
“Her work ethic is similar (to Mary’s),” Fichter said of Nowak. “There is an internal motivation, a drive to get better and strive for perfection.”
Athletic success runs in Maddie’s family.
Katie and Mary Burke combined to win 17 state event championships and 34 medals from 2002-08. The Vikings were state runner-up with Katie in 2002, then won team titles in 2005, 2007 and 2008 with Mary. Katie competed for Iowa in the NCAA Meet in 2007 and Mary won the Big 12 all-around title in 2011 for Missouri.
Maddie’s aunt Missy is one of the best softball players in DePaul history and was the school’s initial first team All-American in 1995. Uncle Matt was drafted by the Orioles in 1986 and played in their system for three seasons.