All posts by Courtney Ouellette

Courtney Ouellette is a proud army brat, sports fan and dog lover. She studied journalism and public relations with a sports concentration at Baylor University, where she graduated in December of 2014. During college she enjoyed interning with ESPN Central Texas radio and Smoaky’s Academic All-Stars scholarship foundation. Following graduation, she worked in marketing for a short time before deciding she wanted a position that would allow her to do more writing. Courtney began reporting for the Rambler in March of 2015 and is currently a junior editor.

DART celebrates 20 years of rail

Photo: At rail stations across the area, DART representatives invite the public to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of DART Rail. /Courtesy photo

Knowing the fight would be an uphill battle, a group of area leaders pushed for a mass transit system to connect residents in the cities of Dallas and Irving to the local places they wished to travel. On Tuesday, June 14, DART Rail celebrated its 20th anniversary with customer appreciation events at six DART Rail stations.

“Last week, Dallas Area Rapid Transit marked the 20th anniversary of the debut of light rail in North Texas,” Mark Ball of DART media relations said. “Customer events were held at a half-dozen stations, including Union Station, where it all began on June 14, 1996. DART Rail was 11 miles then.

“In just two decades, DART Rail is the longest light rail system in North America at 90 miles with 62 stations in eight cities, direct access to DFW International Airport, several colleges and hospitals, major employers, and sporting events,” he said.

By October of this year, DART Rail will extend to 93 miles and 64 stations, including the opening of a three-mile Blue Line extension from Ledbetter Station to UNT Dallas.

According to data from an economic survey conducted through UNT in 2014, $5.3 billion in development projects have been built or planned near DART’s light rail stations since 1996.

“The rail expansion ultimately will boost regional economic activity by almost $8.8 billion, increase labor income by $3.9 billion, and support an average of about 4,250 jobs per year for 15 years,” Ball said. “Total state and local government revenues associated with this spending will approach $281 million.”

Among the dedicated group leaders who worked for light rail 20 years ago was City Councilman John Danish, who felt mass transit was essential to the growth of Irving.

“Originally, there was an election in 1982 called the Lone Star Transit Authority,” Danish said. “Only two cities voted to be a part of it, and they were Dallas and Irving, ironically.”

Two cities were not enough to move the project forward. One year later, however, Danish and his allies made a giant step in the right direction.

“They came back and had an election for Dallas Area Rapid Transit, and that was August of 1983,” Danish said. “That election did prevail, and the original 13 member cities began to vote to implement the one cent sales tax that they have coming in. They can dedicate it to the building of a transit system.”

Those cities that did not dedicate the entire one cent to the building of the rail stations were unable to move forward with the project, according to Danish.

“Fort Worth, for example, chose to do that one cent, but they dedicated only half of it to transportation, and that is the reason why they were never able to become a part of Dallas Area Rapid Transit,” Danish said. “Take a city like Arlington that has never developed a mass transit system. They used their penny for economic development along the I-30 corridor, building such things as the Rangers Ballpark, Six Flags, Wet ‘n’ Wild, etc.”

The DART Rail project faced several opponents during its inception; one of them came in the form of Jerry Jones.

“Along the way, there would be attempts to try to get Irving to vote out of DART, saying we could use that penny in a better way than building and being a part of a mass transit system,” Danish said.

“The greatest challenge came in the summer of ’96 when Jerry Jones wanted to expand and build a new stadium on the original Texas Stadium site. So it was his objective to try to preempt that one cent sales tax to use in building the kind of stadium he envisioned.

“We now know that in 20/20 hindsight what he envisioned was the Taj Mahal you see of AT&T Stadium today; $1.2 billion,” Danish said. “That TV set that hangs down from the ceiling running from the 30 yard line to the 30 yard line cost more money than the entire Texas Stadium cost to build in Irving.

“In the end, fortunately, our area of Texas made this commitment to building a light rail versus heavy commuter rail,” he said.

Danish explained that due to the mildness of north Texas weather, the rail system is more specifically a light rail system, which is one third of the cost of construction of heavy rail that can be seen in places like California.

“What was also fascinating was, when you had mayor races in those days for the city of Irving you were lucky to get 6,500 people to vote,” Danish said. “[The DART project] election brought out like 25,000. Democracy was voiced in a grand manner.

“This battle had been waged and waged and waged. The people have said stay the course, we want to be a part of mass transit. Now today, you’re reaping the harvest, as you’re beginning to see,” he said.

DART continues to grow and connect residents in the region with more innovation and expansion on the way.

“The North Texas region is growing, so DART is really thinking about core capacity and what we can do to improve what we already have,” Ball said. “One way is through platform extensions. We want every station on DART’s 90 miles of light rail to allow for three-car trains.

“This year should see the introduction of DART’s first all-electric buses. We’ll also begin testing bus shelters that include live feeds about bus locations and statuses,” he said.

“The fact that they’re celebrating 20 years of rail is a grand achievement,” Danish said. “It takes having the vision and the foresight to commit to do something.”

Fire engulfs home

Photo: Just as summer beings to heat up, firefighters battle a fierce blaze that ultimately claimed a home, vehicle, and the lives of two pets. /Photo by Courtney Ouellette

A devastating fire raged through the home at 1421 Keeler Dr. on Wednesday, June 21.

The blaze was likely started by smoking materials discarded in a trash can, according to the Irving Fire Department (IFD).

The IFD estimates about $127,000 in damage was caused by the fire to the home and a vehicle that was also burned. The home may be a total loss based on the age of the structure.

No human injuries were associated with the fire, but unfortunately two dogs died.

A woman was in the home at the time the fire began. She was delayed in calling 911, because her phone was involved in the early stages of the fire. She used a neighbor’s phone to call 911.

There were 34 firefighters on scene and 13 pieces of firefighting equipment were sent to the scene.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price gets the ultimate “Top Gun” experience

Photo by Courtney Ouellette

Joining an elite group of people around the world who have flown in an F-16, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price took to the sky in a Lockheed Martin plane with test pilot Paul “Bear” Randall on Friday, May 13.

“We want to expose you to what goes on around here,” Randall said to Price. “I think the power of Lockheed Martin is the people that work here and the passion that goes in to each program.

“With the F-16, we’ve got 26 to 27 customers around the world, so the backbone of the free world’s air force right now is the F-16. As we continue to build this airplane and the F-35, those same partners are our partners now, and that’s going to continue,” he said. “It all happens right here in Fort Worth.”

In addition to flying with Randall, Price had the opportunity to see the behind the scenes work of the plant and meet some of the men and women who keep it running.

“We’re going to go down to the flight line,” Randall said to Price. “You’ll be able to see some of the maintenance and some of the supervisors and things who will prepare us and prepare the airplane. It’s just regular people who are really excited to do their jobs.”

Who is the man the City of Fort Worth trusts to take the Mayor on an adventure 15,000 feet in the air at 600 mph?

“I’m the chief test pilot for the F-16 and have been for about five years,” Randall said. “I’ve been here for 13 years. From there, I came from another defense contractor, and from there, I came from the Navy. I was a test pilot and a combat pilot flying the F-14 in the Navy. I entered the service out of college and wanted to be a pilot.”

After a visit with the flight surgeon to ensure the two were healthy enough to fly, Randall explained their flight plan.

“We’re going to do a real steep climb; we’re going to go straight up overhead to 15,000 feet. It’s a beautiful, fantastic day with dry air, so it’s going to be fantastic visibility. We’re going to be able to see everything,” Randall said.

“Then we’re going to go out into what we call working area where Possum Kingdom Lake is, and we’re going to use that as a center. From there, I’m going to show you a little bit about how to fly. We’re going to let you fly the airplane.”

When they are not busy executing skillful maneuvers, Randall planned to show the Mayor the Brazos River and dam and even the Mayor’s house.

“I’ll give you a demonstration of the performance capability,” Randall said. “What I want you to take away from today is: you’re never going to have been accelerated so fast, except perhaps when you go in a supersonic transport. You will never be faster than you have gone today: more than 600 miles an hour. And we’ll experience some Gs, as much as we’re comfortable with. If you want, maybe we’ll do a little weightlessness.

“This is really one of the most fun parts of what I get to do, outside of working with the great people around here. If we’re having fun, we’ll stay up there until we run out of gas.”

The opportunity to view the city from the F-16 took on even more significance for the Mayor as she reminisced about growing up near the plant, back then simply called the ‘bomber plant.’

“I grew up in Fort Worth,” Price said. “We used to get B-58s and ‘52s going over our heads, and people would stop talking. But that’s the sound of freedom, and that’s what we’re all about.

“It used to be the bomber plant when my parents came to Fort Worth in 1945 before I was born.”

In response to Randall’s hopes to show the Mayor what Lockheed Martin is all about, she explained the plant’s impact on the economy and her former visits.

“This plant employs about 13,000 people. So really it’s one of our largest employers and biggest economic drivers in the region,” Price said.

“I’ve been out here a lot but this is the first time I’ve looked at one of the planes, and it was quite an honor to see what you do, Paul, on a day-to-day basis, as well as the men and women who are right across the way at the Joint Reserve Base, who really do keep us safe.

“This is one of those very agile and maneuverable planes that you watch in the sky and you’re just amazed at what you can do and pull off in them,” Price said.

Joined by her close friends and family at the hangar and runway, Mayor Price, decked out in a flight suit, took off on a once in a lifetime adventure in the sky.

Music Factory progress

Photo: Two cranes now reside at the site of the Music Factory in order to begin construction on the multi-story building and parking garage. /Photo by Courtney Ouellette

Irving residents can see some evidence of the building evolution of the long-awaited Music Factory entertainment center located next the Irving Convention Center as two cranes were moved to the building site on Friday, June 10.

The cranes will be used to build the venue’s tallest structure, a four-story office building, which will sit atop a six-level parking garage. Foundation for the structure has already been completed, including 300 underground concrete piers.

“We’re going to have a collection of entertainment shopping and a gathering-type atmosphere,” said Dan Mortimer, General Superintendent for Skanska USA. “The Irving Music Factory is a collection of eight or nine buildings that will be retail, office, parking, restaurants, a movie house and an amphitheater.”

Mortimer believes the Music Factory will make a great addition to the existing venues in Las Colinas.

“It’s very complementary of what they’re doing here,” Mortimer said. “It will probably bring a new angle to this part of town. Really what’s pretty exciting is knowing what’s going to be going on in the buildings here. It’s really going to be something pretty exceptional.

“What’s special about today is, we are going vertical. We have a crane going up in the air. We’ll have a second one going up. It’s kind of a stake in the ground for us after planning and working and scheduling and meeting with people. It’s a big deal when we can start putting something tangible in the air to show people that were actually going forward,” he said. “You’re starting to see things come up out of the ground, which creates curiosity.”

The heavy amounts of rain north Texas has received in the past weeks created less than desirable working conditions for construction crews.

“The last few weeks have been pretty tough, but we always have things up our sleeves to keep on track; working longer hours, working weekends and just make up time wherever we possibly can to hit our dates. We’re saying about mid ’17 is when this is going to be functional and open to the public,” Mortimer said.

“It’s going to really, enhance the lives of a lot of people,” he said. “It’s exciting.”

From Austin to Alaska

Photo: Though the day turned soggy, Shannon Lu and her teammates roll to success during the Century Test. /Courtesy photo

Cancer is a leading cause of death around the world. Most people have been affected by this devastating disease in one way or another. Every day people help in the fight against cancer through activities like donations, 5Ks and even jumping rope. Some, like Coppell native Shannon Lu, have taken the battle against cancer to the next level.

“I’ve wanted to do Texas 4000 ever since I first heard about it during my first week of freshman year at UT Austin,” Lu said. “One of my group leaders in a welcome event casually mentioned that he was biking from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska, and I was blown away.”

The Texas 4000 program selects University of Texas students to participate in a rigorous 18-month program that ultimately leads to a 4,000+ mile bike ride in the name of battling cancer.

Though each student is encouraged to aim for a $4,500 fund raising goal, Lu pledged to raise $10,000, and she’s almost there. With $9,392 already raised, Lu is almost two weeks into her journey to Anchorage.

“I ride for two main reasons: my cousin and my grandfather,” she said. “My cousin just turned 15, and is a two-time Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor. He’s one of the sweetest and smartest boys I know, one of my biggest cheerleaders, and an inspiration to me. He was first diagnosed with Stage 3, almost [Stage] 4, cancer when he was 10 and fought it again when he was 12. He’s now cancer free by many miracles and I hope he stays that way!”

Lu grew up in Valley Ranch, but that did not stop her from forming a close relationship with her grandparents who lived in China.

“I also ride for my grandparents on my dad’s side. I found out that my grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer a little bit after my cousin’s news,” Lu said. “My grandpa’s cancer diagnosis was a surprise because he was always considered the healthy one in the family. He passed away a little while after the diagnosis and so did my grandmother, out of other health complications.

“They were so selfless and huge inspirations in my life. I want to ride for them for everything they taught me, the unconditional love they gave me, and all of the years that I wish I could have spent with them in China,” she said.

The challenge that began as a declaration of devotion and support for her affected family members has turned into something much bigger.

“Over the course of my Texas 4000 journey, I have met countless people who are giving me more reasons to ride,” she said. “My teammates are very inspiring and have incredible stories as well. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I ride for every reason that they ride as well.”

These reasons kept Lu going during the program’s rigorous training, which required outstanding stamina and physical fitness.

“We have specific training requirements that we are required to fulfill before going on the ride. I found out that I was going to be a part of the 2016 team in November of 2014, but we did not start training until the fall of 2015,” she said.

In the beginning, the riders participate in weekly workouts that focus on core strengthening, building endurance and reinforcing other necessary muscles. By October, these weekly sessions become bike rides.

“We are required to have ridden 2,000 training miles by the beginning of May with various deadlines along the way, and we have a couple of tests to pass: 50 miles in 5 hours, and 100 miles in 10 hours including all stops and mechanical issues,” Lu said.

The people she meets along the way, and their powerful stories keep Lu motivated.

“Hands down, the best part of the experience is all of the people I have met, including my teammates,” Lu said. “When we ride, our jerseys say ‘Texas 4000 for Cancer’ and the back of them say ‘Fighting Cancer Every Mile,’ which is the motto.

“I can’t even put into words the feelings I get when strangers just want to open up to us about how cancer has impacted them personally. I’ve met people when they roll down their windows as they pass by us or at stop lights to share their stories.

“The gratitude that people feel when they see us or hear about what we’re doing is so overwhelming. I’m not the kind of person to show my emotions in public, but talking to people and hearing their stories really challenges that part of me. It’s so touching that people are just so willing to open up to us and share things that they would probably not even share to friends.

“I also do not think that I could possibly have a better group of people as teammates,” she said. “They are some of the strongest people I know and they are all so talented, genuine, and perfect in their own ways. Cancer has affected everyone in so many tough ways and there are honestly no other people that I’d rather bike to Alaska with.”

Despite the support of her teammates and faith in their training, Lu and her family are a bit nervous about the 4,000 mile trek.

“My first reaction [when she told me what she was doing] was that Shannon is going crazy,” said Yaping Lu, Shannon’s father. “Then I pulled out the Google map and tried to figure out how far away Anchorage is from Austin.

“As a dad, I’m really concerned about her body condition, and I’m worrying if she can survive the 4,000-mile ride. I think she has a very good coaching team, and she just had a 100-mile ride. They have built up her and her teammates’ strength.

“I’m very proud of Shannon and her ambition,” he said. “We fully support Shannon in all aspects, including helping her raising the money for the Texas 4000 Foundation.

“People tell me that I’m inspiring for doing this, but to me, biking to Alaska is easy,” Lu said. “My real goal is literally to raise as much money as I can.”

If you would like to help Shannon Lu reach her goal or write a message of support during her ride, visit http://www.texas4000.org/rider/2016/ozarks/shannon-lu/ .

 

Local author launches sequel

Photo: Celebrating the launch of the sequel, Marked, Jenny Martin enjoys the huge book poster adorning the South Irving Library. /Photo by Courtney Ouellette

A year ago, local YA author, Jenny Martin, launched her debut novel, Tracked, surrounded by friends, family and fans. Martin recently returned to the South Irving Library for the launch of her sequel, Marked, on May 16 with special guest, Julie Murphy (Dumplin’).

“I want to say a big congratulations to Jenny,” Murphy said. “Writing one book is hard enough, but writing a sequel to it is something that I have never done, and I can’t even imagine how difficult it is.

“When people ask me what the most surprising thing about the publishing world is, I always say that it’s the community, and Jenny is my community. She is fiercely loyal. She’s someone who will be honest with you when you need it the most, and she’s someone who is there rooting for you and hugging you when you need it the most, too.

“She’s hugely talented, and she’s someone I look up to. I’m so thrilled to be here, celebrating the release of Marked with her,” Murphy said.

At the end of Tracked, the main character is left in a very difficult place emotionally and mentally after facing a series of trials. The sequel, according to Martin, incorporates real world ways of managing such trauma.

“The first book was a lot about corporate control and trying to get out of that control when they’ve backed you against that wall,” Martin said. “With Marked, the sequel, the theme shifted to not how to fight back when you’re in a corner, but how to get back up after you’re broken.

“I thought a lot about Phee’s character arc. She really struggles with PTSD. One of the things I thought about was soldiers coming back from war, coming back form the Iraqi war, coming back from Afghanistan.

“I think I read a statistic early on that up to 20 percent of the guys and women coming back are suffering from this. We really look on the outside and see the wounds of war. We’re adequate at taking care of those, but we’re not good at taking care of the wounds on the heart and the soul where you’re just broken down inside,” she said.

It is for those men and women and for the relatability of her characters, that Martin researched PTSD and its treatments extensively.

“It was really important to me,” Martin said. “I’ve known people in my life who struggled with depression, anxiety, PTSD. In college, I worked in a nursing home and we’d often have older patients who struggled with this; so I wanted it to be realistic. I did a lot of research into it, and I read about realistic treatments, everything from exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling, and family therapy and learning how to cope.

“I wanted to think so far in the future about what may be viable treatments in dealing with that. So in the midst of this darkness and these zero G space battles and war and conflict and having your family ripped apart, and death, how you can reasonably get through this,” Martin said. “I wanted her to have a realistic journey, to really struggle and grapple with something that she was going to suffer with maybe for the rest of her life. But, at the same time, I know she’ll come out stronger in a lot of ways.”

The idea of emerging stronger after trauma fueled the story’s narrative from its early stages.

“I was really obsessed with this quote; it’s by Earnest Hemmingway; it goes: ‘The world breaks everyone and afterwards, some are strong at the broken places,’” Martin said.

On her journey through the tumultuous world of publishing, Martin has faced her own set of ups and downs. It is the community and the supportive people around her that make it all worthwhile.

“I feel like publishing in a way broke me a little bit,” Martin said. “Publishing is kind of like a bad boyfriend. Sometimes he’s really good to you, and then sometimes he is just so awful. But his family is great. Even if sometimes you want to break up with him, you want to hang out with his aunt and sister.”

Unfortunately, when Penguin was printing Jenny’s book, they failed to include the acknowledgments page. To remedy this, Martin thanked her support system, many of whom were in the audience.

Las Colinas park adds sculpture, ‘New Beginning’

Photo: The newest addition to Flagpole Hill, “New Beginning” sits at an intersection of paths. /Photo by Courtney Ouellette

Daily stress like traffic and the hustle and bustle of city life are a regular part of most peoples’ lives. Everyday worries and annoyances make the “Sculpture in the Park” on Flagpole Hill a welcome refuge for those seeking a place of serenity.

The Las Colinas Park Foundation and the Las Colinas Association, in partnership with the City of Irving celebrated the newest sculpture featured in the park, titled ‘New Beginnings,’ during a ceremony at University Hills’ Flagpole Hill on Tuesday, May 10.

“We took this little park, and I wanted to find something that would hold 5-6 sculptures and represent and impact the community with its presence – a sculpture garden,” said Heinz Simon, President of Las Colinas Park Foundation.

The group of contemporary sculptures was created by four different artists. The fifth and newest sculpture was created by Dale Lamphere, who also contributed ‘Autumn,’ the second sculpture to grace Flagpole Hill.

Each of the pieces are made of materials that hold up against Texas weather, including steel and stone, rather than a material like bronze, which requires far more maintenance.

“We’ve schedule this dedication for the purpose of hopefully getting the word out more to the general public about the impact of public art,” Simon said. “The value it generates for the properties it embraces, and peoples’ opinion of that property. People tend to respect land with public art more than they do without it.”

The Las Colinas Park Foundation began in 2000, because members like Simon wanted to pursue projects that went beyond the scope of the Las Colinas Association and its budget.

“Our first project was the Ben Carpenter monument on Riverside Drive,” Simon said. “We worked together with the Carpenter family, and we raised the money to build the plaza and surrounding area.”

Like Simon, Las Colinas Association Chairman Al Zapanta traced the Foundation’s legacy back to Ben Carpenter.

“Ben Carpenter’s vision for Las Colinas was open space that residents and the general public could interact and enjoy our planned urban community,” Zapanta said. “University Hills was the first residential community in Las Colinas.”

The Las Colinas Park Foundation in partnership with the Las Colinas Association began its endeavors in 2010 with ‘Origin,’ the first sculpture.

Wearing more than just her Director of the Las Colinas Association hat, Mayor Beth Van Duyne explained the important role public art plays in a city.

“The importance and benefits of having art in public spaces; well it’s very hard to quantify, but you know if it’s missing,” Van Duyne said. “But you also notice when it’s there, because it’s something that, whether or not you just stop and look at it, or you stop and talk about it, or you take a moment and you think about it, it’s a tremendous asset. And it’s not just from a cultural or feeling perspective, but it’s also the quality of the community.

“The best communities in the world and the longest lasting communities have always prioritized art and culture, but it’s also from a pragmatic standpoint. As mayor, we look at it from an economic development standpoint.

“An article recently talked about how people want to see and pick different cities; 99 percent, 99 percent, said that a cultural aspect of a city is a number one thing they prioritize. So it’s not just from a ‘oh it makes us feel good’ standpoint, it actually in the end helps us generate revenue, gets jobs here,” she said.

“I am thrilled to be able to be here today, looking at this art. Looking at this art as an example of the type of community that you live in, it makes you feel good,” Van Duyne said. “You look at Las Colinas and there’s a richness about it.”

At the ceremony’s close, Mayor Van Duyne officially turned over the safekeeping and maintenance of the sculpture to the Las Colinas Association.

YA author tackles mental illness in new book

Photo: Opening up about his newest book, John Corey Whaley talks writing, mental illness and characters during an author meet and greet at the South Irving Library. /Photo by John Starkey

Once a taboo topic, mental illness is now being recognized and discussed regularly, especially during the month of May, Mental Health Month. Author John Corey Whaley uses young adult fiction to add his experiences to that discussion, and he shared his thoughts with guests of the South Irving Library on May 19.

Joined by local bestselling author Julie Murphy (Dumplin’), the two discussed an array of topics, from the writing process to mental health awareness.

Highly Illogical Behavior is a personal book to me; it’s definitely the most personal,” Whaley said. “I was going through a really difficult time with my anxiety, which would lead to depression a couple years back, and that’s when I decided I need to write about it.

“I need to write about it to understand myself better. I need to understand people who don’t understand mental illness; maybe I can add a little sentence to the conversation about anxiety,” he said.

Highly Illogical Behavior follows 16-year-old Solomon Reed who struggles with severe panic attacks that eventually lead to a public breakdown. Solomon becomes agoraphobic (an intense fear of facing anxiety triggers like large crowds and public spaces.)

“[Solomon] decides that the best treatment for his particular brand of anxiety is to stay home and stay away from the world that overwhelms him so much,” Whaley said. “He tries different things and his parents try to help him as much as they can, but ultimately they all just decide that his agoraphobia is the best way to help him survive the world with a mental illness.

“That’s really a big part of the story. This was about the individual nature of mental illness and that no two cases are the same. It’s easy to talk about them like statistics and diagnoses, but it’s personal,” he said.

Shenanigans ensue when Lisa Praytor, an ambitious high school senior, decides Solomon will be the focus of an essay that will help her gain entrance into the college psychology program she hopes to attend. With Lisa’s outgoing ‘normal’ boyfriend in tow, the three build relationships with one another.

“Honestly I don’t think it’s just mental illness that we’re finally talking about openly. I think it’s this sort of age of accountability where because of social media, people can’t hide from the truth as easily now. I feel like I’ve gotten to add a sentence or maybe even a small paragraph to a larger conversation.

“It’s easier to not have to hide personally now too, because people can find community in so many different ways now through social networking, through all these different things that technology and progress have brought into our lives,” he said.

His own experiences with mental illness and feeling the need to hide things that made him different influenced Whaley’s decision to write Highly Illogical Behavior and to take up writing in general.

“[Mental illness] is one of those stigmas that have stuck so aggressively,” Whaley said. “When I was going through this thing with anxiety, there was a point in time where I struggled with it daily. I realized that maybe I’m not talking about this as much as should. My first thought was hide, people don’t want to talk about this.

“I started playing around with writing when I was 11 or 12. From a young age, I was really preoccupied with storytelling. I was a slow, slow reader as a kid, and it was really frustrating. So I really fell in love with drama movies. All my friends were into the action and adventure, and I was like ‘when is the new Meryl Streep out?’

“I think that led to me wanting to write, and because I had so much frustration with reading and focusing on it, it was like, I’m just going to write my own stories. I was good at it when I was young, and it was important that I had my thing,” he said.
The pressure of living in a small town often pressed on Whaley from a young age.

“I grew up in a very, very conservative small town in Louisiana. As an adult, I’ve come to terms with where I’m from,” he said. “I understand the town better, and the people there have been very supportive of my writing. I always get a warm welcome there.

“But as a teenager, I was really bitter about it, and I felt misunderstood. I was closeted until I was 26, and I’m sure a lot of that had to do with the sort of conservative environment I grew up in and the stigmas attached to those things,” Whaley said.

Two of Whaley’s most praised characters in Highly Illogical Behavior in several reviews are Solomon’s parents. Like Whaley’s parents, the mom and dad remain supportive and loving throughout their sons’ hardships.

“People see that life is really complicated without parents in a lot of literature, but it can also be complicated with supportive parents there. I want those parents to know that they’re not unnoticed,” he said.

Today, Whaley’s anxiety is still present but is being well-managed through support and medicine.

“I hope people keep pushing the conversation until we talk about mental illness the way we talk about physical illness. I can’t ‘mind over matter’ chemical imbalances in my brain,” he said.

Garcia wins 2016 Byron Nelson

Photo: For the second time in his career, Sergio Garcia raises the Byron Nelson trophy following a tiebreaker playoff. /Photo by John Starkey

The 2016 AT&T Byron Nelson crowned its new champion, Sergio Garcia, after a close finish that resulted in a sudden death playoff on the 18th hole Sunday, May 22. Garcia and Brooks Koepka tied under 15, with Matt Kuchar taking third at 14 under.

With this win, Garcia has won 9 PGA Tour titles, and this is his second Byron Nelson win. At 36 years old, he is now tied with Seve Ballesteros for most wins by a Spanish-born player.

“To be able to call myself a two-time Byron champion is spectacular,” Garcia said. “It means so much to be right next to [Ballesteros] on that aspect. It’s another achievement I couldn’t be prouder of, to be next to a legend like him.”

The battle for the top spots shifted continuously, and at one point Garcia knew catching back up to Brooks Koepka would be difficult.

“Coming down the stretch when he was 17 and I was going to be 14 after 14, and to have a chance at the end, it was nice,” Garcia said.

“It looked like Brooks was pretty much in control, but obviously I was fighting hard. I wasn’t playing amazingly, but I was chipping and putting great, got into 15. Then made a bogey on 10 after making a great tee shot.

“But then the par save on 11 and the birdie on 13 and more than anything not making that one on 14 after hitting the water; that one was very important,” he said. “To me, the most important thing at the end of the day was how I played the last four holes and the playoff.”

“I’ve always said you have to get lucky to win tournaments. Usually playing well isn’t enough, and I did get fortunate obviously by making a couple of nice birdies in there,” Garcia said.

European tour obligations prevented Garcia from returning to the Byron several times. It has been four years since Garcia has won a PGA Tour competition, and according to him, it meant a great deal to come back.

“I got a great letter from one of the little guys from the [Momentous] Institute that caddied for me on the 17th hole. His name was Kai. He wrote me an amazing letter that I got on Friday,” Garcia said.

During the presentation of the trophy, Garcia spoke with Peggy Nelson.

“I just said thanks for everything, and that it was great to see her again. I was really excited to be back here, and it was emotional,” he said “Peggy finished it off by making me cry, which I didn’t think I was going to do, but it was nice to have that problem.”

Hometown favorite Jordan Spieth tied with 5 other pros for the 18th spot, shooting 10 under.

“I got off to a good start with short-siding myself but holing the chip which is a nice bonus, really saved a stroke and a half on that shot and took advantage of the easier holes and made a couple mid-range putts I haven’t been making or at least I didn’t last week,” Spieth said.

Spieth’s start seemed promising, but he eventually slid on the final day of play leaving him to finish around the middle of the pack.

“I’m now seeing courses for the third time, sometimes the fourth. Normally the third event. But to be coming to my 6th [Byron Nelson] event, it’s bizarre. It really is kind of an odd feeling.”

Earlier in the week, Spieth reflected on his tumultuous competition history at the Byron.

“I love the way I played this tournament when I was in high school both years,” Spieth said. “I played it the way that I love to play the game which is to play aggressive, not hold anything back. Once I made the cut, that’s easy to say given there’s nothing to lose as an amateur, as a high schooler, no one expects anything out of you anyway.

“I didn’t really know what to expect myself,” he said. “I may as well try and fire at flag sticks, and you know, it worked out for the most part. Towards the end of those Sundays, I fell back a little bit but, boy, it was a really fun ride.”

Though he did not finish where he wanted to at this year’s Byron, Spieth will not let that tarnish his personal connection to the tournament and course.

“I’m very pleased with the way it all worked out, very fortunate that I was given those opportunities, because they gave me the confidence I needed to believe I belong out here and I can make it out here with consistent work,” he said.

IPD honors fallen officers

Photo: Honoring those who gave their lives in the line of duty, an officer places spent shell casings from rifle salute on a memorial. /Photo by John Starkey

A profession that is often taken for granted and sometimes even scorned, dedicated police officers perform their duties regardless of public sentiment, some even giving their lives for the community they serve. On Thursday, May 12 the Irving Police Department paid tribute to three Irving officers that made the ultimate sacrifice in conjunction with National Police Week.

During the second annual National Police Officer Memorial Ceremony, friends, family and community members gathered at Irving Veterans Memorial to honor and remember Glenn Homs (’93), Aubrey Hawkins (’00) and Andrew Esparza (’07).

Officer Homs was struck by a hit-and-run driver while responding to an incident involving a cow blocking a roadway. While responding to suspicious activity on Christmas Eve, Officer Hawkins was mortally wounded by gunfire from men committing a robbery. During an attempt to assist a fellow officer during a storm, Officer Esparza suffered fatal injuries when he lost control of his vehicle due to dangerous road conditions.

“Today we, as Irving police officers, family, friends and community, are here to give honor to the service of our officers,” Police Chief Larry Boyd said. “Each of these officers chose to do this job and understood the risk. Despite the risk, they chose to accept a job with a cause and a mission bigger than themselves. In pursuit of that mission, they gave the ultimate sacrifice.

“National Police Officers Memorial Day has been a day of observance for quite some time in our nation. In fact, this day of honor was established by John F. Kennedy in 1962, but this is our second annual observance here in Irving, and of holding our ceremony in Veterans Memorial Park.

“President George Herbert Walk Bush dedicated the national police memorial. He said that ‘Carved into these walls is the story of America; of our continuing quest to preserve both democracy and decency and to protect the national treasure that we call the American dream.’ What we are honoring here today is Irving’s chapter in that story and the sacrifices made to protect our national treasure,” he said.

There are over 20,000 names engraved on the national memorial wall, and 124 new names will be added in honor of the men and women who died in the line of duty in 2015.

“Each name on that wall is in honor of the fact that the officer gave their life in the service of their community. Three of those 20,000 plus names were Irving police officers: Officer Dan Homs, Officer Aubrey Hawkins and Officer Andrew Esparza,” Boyd said.

“When I spoke at Andrew Esparza’s service, I said that we as officers need to brace ourselves for our duty and allow the example of Andrew’s life to make us stronger. That statement is true of all three of these officers. Their lives and the spirit of their service will serve to make us stronger and we are blessed to have them as part of our heritage.

“They are a part of our family, from which we continue to draw strength. We all pray that our officers continue to do their duty bravely and skillfully and with honor but by God’s grace and protection we pray that we never add any more names to this memorial,” Boyd said.

In honor of those sacrifices, Mayor Beth Van Duyne proclaimed Sunday, May 15, as Peace Officers Memorial Day.

“The members of the law enforcement agency of Irving play an essential role in safeguarding the rights and freedoms of Irving,” Van Duyne said. “Members of the law enforcement agency have rendered a dedicated service to the community and have established themselves through their faithful devotion and loyalty to their responsibilities.

“It is important that all citizens know and understand the duties, responsibilities, hazards and sacrifices of their law enforcement agency. The men and women of the law enforcement agency of Irving unceasingly provide a vital public service,” she said.

“Last year during this ceremony I observed that there has been a great deal of tension and controversy in our nation lately as it relates to law enforcement,” Boyd said. “Really not that much has changed in a year, but fortunately something else has not changed.

“We still serve a grateful nation, we still serve a grateful city, and we still serve a grateful community,” he said. “We’ll never really understand that gratitude more than when an officer gives his or her life in the line of duty.”