Around town at the Viking Gymnastics Center


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History of the Vikings –

Charlie Friedman started gymnastics at the age of eight and quickly fell in love with the sport. What her mother thought was a weekly activity quickly turned into a passion resulting in a six-day-a-week engagement. His gymnastics training not only consisted of traditional gymnastics events, but also included ballet and acrobatic dance.

After competing in club and high school gymnastics competitions, Charlie was hired by the Niles North High Schools girls’ gymnastics team as a choreographer and assistant coach. There, his mentor and former coach, Susan Fosco, encouraged Charlie to start a feeding program for their high school team. This original program was the basis of what is now Viking Gymnastics & Dance.

Viking’s off-season program of the early 2000s was aimed at high school students and their younger brother who would one day compete for the Niles North team. He quickly grew to include cousins, neighbors and friends. The young gymnasts improved quickly and were ready to compete long before high school. Charlie had the boys and girls registered through AAU / GIJO then USA Gymnastics to compete at the compulsory levels.

With emerging competitive teams, which require many hours of practice, and a recreational program that numbered over 250, Viking needed to find a home outside of the high school’s second floor gymnasium. In 2012, Viking opened a bright 15,500 square foot gym in Niles, Illinois. By the time the first class took place, their enrollment had already doubled and continued to grow.

In 2017, Viking expanded their space to 37,000 square feet and added the dance program Charlie always thought was missing. In addition to traditional ballet, Viking Dance offers lessons in jazz, tap dancing, lyrics, hip-hop, and a variety of toddler classes.

Charlie and the rest of the Viking staff undoubtedly believe that every child can benefit from gymnastics and dancing. They are committed to providing a positive and rewarding experience for everyone who walks through Viking’s doors.

Charlie Friedman biography –

Charlie Friedman began competitive gymnastics at the age of eight. Gymnastics was such an important part of her childhood and such a great experience that she created Viking Gymnastics. Charlie’s mission was to create a place where any child could participate in sport and benefit from their lesson in life. Throughout college, Charlie performed for an acrobatic dance company. The expanded Viking Gymnastics & Dance offers a synergy between the two disciplines which has been a dream for her for some time.

Charlie is a Certified Elementary Teacher and Certified Professional Safety Member of the American Gymnastics Federation. She was the Head Coach of Women’s Gymnastics at Niles North High School from 2008 until the spring of 2013 when she decided to focus entirely on Viking Gymnastics. She has taught students of different ability levels, as well as people with disabilities. Charlie continues to be deeply involved in the gymnastics community and was a past president of the Illinois High School Girls’ Gymnastics Coaches Association.

Charlie and Coach Mendel have two young daughters who are fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by their extended Viking family.

Susan Fosco Bio –

Susan has been involved in gymnastics her entire life: started tumbling at age three, received a full gymnastics scholarship from Northeastern Illinois University in 1974, coached at the University of Indiana while earning a master’s degree in physical education, and has coached both high school and club teams since.

Susan coached at Resurrection High School for ten years, where her teams placed 3rd in the state three times, won numerous section and regional championships and ten conference championships. Susan continued with her team and individual successes at Hersey High School, Elgin High School, Addison Trail High School, Lane Tech High School, Niles North High School and the Elk Grove Gymnastics School. Susan recently retired from teaching physical education and adventure education at Niles North High School. Sue’s accomplishments include: 2012 Resurrections Sports Hall of Fame Induction, 2006 Catholic Girls Sports Conference Hall of Fame Induction, High School Girls Gymnastics Coaches Association Illinois Coach of the Year 2006, American Teacher Who’s Who 1996, CCGA Coach of the Year 1986-1990, Scholastic Magazine Coach of the Year 1986, 1990. Susan believes it is important to give back to the gymnastics community and has volunteered in the gymnastics community as: 2002-2005 IHSGGCA Vice President and President, 1985-1990 Prairie State Games coach, served on the IHSA Gymnastics Advisory Committee from 1989-1992 and hosted the Chicago Park Special Olympics District Gymnastics Camps.

Susan has loved gymnastics her entire life and is so grateful for the opportunity to be an Assistant Director and to work with the wonderful coaching staff at Viking Gymnastics. She enjoys reconnecting with many of her former gymnasts whose children are now taking classes at Viking.

Avril Sawyer Bio –

Coach April started her gymnastics career in Indiana where her favorite event was the balance beam, but she feels her real impact on the sport has come over her 30+ years of practice. coaching. April is a jack of all trades in that she has helped run a gymnasium, directed and coached many programs, judged and created many special needs programs including the Special Olympics First Gymnastics Team at Houston. In 2013, she received the Distinguished Service Award which is given to individuals who have rendered outstanding service to the development of gymnastics and gymnastics programs in the State of Texas. April planned and directed the State Special Olympics Gymnastics competition in Arlington, TX, in 2014 and 2015. She has been a distinguished guest and presenter at the GAT Conference and the USAG National Conference.

April’s passion is working with toddlers / preschool gymnasts and gymnasts with special needs. She understands that everything we do or say to a child can have a profound impact. She enjoys training gymnastics because it is fun and it helps children in so many ways; it helps their development, strength, coordination, flexibility, motor skills, confidence, self-esteem, spatial awareness, etc. “I think gymnastics can feel good about themselves and that gymnastics can be a stepping stone to so many other important goals in life.

April married her high school sweetheart and has two grown children. She and her family moved to the Chicago area to volunteer and began coaching at Viking in 2016. Her positive energy and warmth are infectious when you are around her!


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