The Olympics of Disc Golf

Greater Peoria has become a national mecca for disc golf.

Disc golf has become increasingly popular over the last two decades, with courses popping up all over the region. Nate Heinold, director of the Discraft Ledgestone Insurance Open and a board member of the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA), has been playing for nearly two decades and has competed in four World Championships. “Disc golf appeals to all demographics,” he explains. “Most disc golf courses are in public parks, so there is no charge, and you can play a full round on some courses in under an hour, if you are by yourself. And walking around a park for 18 holes is great exercise.”

With a dozen 18-hole courses within 25 miles of the city (and another 11 nine-hole courses), Greater Peoria has become a national mecca for disc golf. Thanks to Heinold’s work building up the Discraft Ledgestone Insurance Open over the past eight years, he won the bid to host the 2019 PDGA Professional Disc Golf World Championships.

Central Illinois is the perfect setting for this premier event—“the Olympics of disc golf,” says Heinold, who expects to host 300 players from all over the world. And they won’t simply show up the day before the tournament, he adds. “They will travel here in the months leading up to the event to practice the courses and get their reps in. Some players will be in Peoria 10 days before [it] even starts,” he says, noting the positive impact on the local economy. “We are even planning events at Dozer Park and several other local establishments in conjunction with the event.”

The 2019 PDGA Pro Disc Golf World Championships will take place August 13-17, 2019 at courses in Eureka, Morton and Pekin—with players competing for a record-breaking $130,000+ purse. For more information and a full schedule of events, visit discgolfproworlds.com.

This article was originally published here.

Just Can’t Escape It!

Three local businesses offer exciting, new entertainment options for thrill seekers.

Across the nation, there’s been a boom in escape rooms as people seek out unique, interactive entertainment that challenges their problem-solving abilities. Escape rooms originated from video games in which players had to solve mysteries and interact with other players within a “location” to move to the next level. In 2007, a Japanese company took this concept further by creating the first live escape room, in which participants were locked in a room for an hour and had to solve a series of problems in order to escape.

The idea quickly took root, with escape rooms popping up across Asia and Europe. The first escape room in the United States opened in Seattle in 2013. Today, there are more than 2,800 escape rooms across the country.

Creating a fun, challenging experience is the name of the game. Why just sit and watch a show when you can be part of the act… and prove you’re the smartest person in the room (assuming you solve the puzzle)? It’s also an affordable way to have fun with friends—generally under $30 per person. Here in the Peoria area, three local couples have opened successful escape room businesses in the past two years, with hundreds of customers experiencing the thrill each week.

Escape Afficionados
On a weekend getaway to Indianapolis several years ago, Michelle and Steve Rouland stumbled upon an escape room and decided to have a go at it. “We had such a blast finding objects and solving the room’s puzzles,” Michelle recalls, “we immediately booked with another escape room company for the next day.” They were hooked. Read the rest here.

Youth Sports: Behind the Numbers

Youth sports teams flock to compete at world-class facilities on both sides of the river.

As the Greater Peoria area has become a top destination for competitive youth sports, the old phrase “playing in Peoria” is more apropos than ever. From softball, baseball and basketball to volleyball, soccer, cross-country and beyond, these games and tournaments attract huge numbers to the region—and with them comes a sizeable economic impact. With so many different events and venues, here’s a quick rundown of what plays where.

Premier Attractions
Greater Peoria offers a pair of world-class facilities that play host to major youth sports events: the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex (LSSC) in north Peoria and Eastside Centre in East Peoria. Both complexes offer indoor and outdoor facilities to accommodate year-round play and practices.

With 10 outdoor diamonds and one of the largest domed facilities in the Midwest, the LSSC hosts major regional tournaments like the USSSA Illinois State Softball & Baseball Championships, Great Lakes National Championships, Premier Girls Fastpitch Mid-West Regionals, Brad Wallin Memorial Tournament and Missouri Valley Conference Softball Championship. It is the “only facility in the nation associated with Louisville Slugger, the premier brand in diamond sports,” adds Rick Gaa, LSSC vice president. He estimates the venue will attract nearly 250,000 people this year, encompassing competitive volleyball tournaments as well as baseball and softball. Read the rest here.

Freeze Frame: Capturing Moments in Time

An artist’s lifelike portrayals take on new meaning via time and motion.

Connie Andrews’ portraits and sculptures often transcend time, telling a story within a story. “The passage of time is a theme I like to explore,” she explains. “I look for ways to tell a story of a few seconds, or even decades, in the context of a confined space—the way a person changes over the decades, or the movement of hands over a piece of work.”

With that in mind, she never takes a project at face value. Getting to the essence of her subject requires time and reflection, and it’s at the heart of her work. “If I were to just take a photograph and paint it as I see it, that would be pretty easy,” she notes. “To make it really touching and meaningful… I add to it and make it a piece of art.”

Layers of Meaning
A woman once came to Andrews shortly after her wedding, asking her to paint a portrait. She brought along a few photos—all striking, professional shots. “One of her favorites was of her and her husband dancing, with him spinning her around. It was really beautiful—I couldn’t improve on the photography,” Andrews explains. Using the photos for reference, she combined several shots to create “A Whirl of Their Own,” layering the couple’s movements to illustrate a range of motions—the bride and groom at different angles, her dress swirling around the scene. Read the rest here.

Raising the Barn

The Village of Goodfield welcomes the Conklin Players back to the Barn.

If you had told Mary Simon two years ago that the Barn would be rebuilt and booking future performances, she wouldn’t have believed you. The director of the Conklin Players was sure that her turn in local theater was up. The Barn II in Goodfield, the theater troupe’s longtime home, had closed in the summer of 2015 after irreparable wind damage rendered the building unsafe. Undeterred, Simon moved her operations to Five Points Washington, where the troupe performed until the end of 2017.

“I was giving everything we made at Five Points to the troupe to try to keep them solvent,” she recalls. “And then I couldn’t afford to do it anymore. I had cashed out my insurance policies. I borrowed against things. My credit card debt was huge… I was tapped out.” But just two weeks after Simon gave up, Abby Reel walked into her life and proposed a plan that turned everything around.

A Storied History
A native of nearby Congerville, Abby Reel essentially grew up with The Barn’s cast of colorful characters as a backdrop. Her parents, Les and Carolyn Reel, were huge supporters of the theater—attending performances regularly, becoming friends with Simon and founder Chaunce Conklin, and encouraging their daughter to join—which she did as a teenager, working there before heading off to college.

Fast forward nearly 20 years, and Reel is now owner of the Barn III, still under construction. The new venue is set to open in February with support from its community, a massive fundraising effort, and a sizable loan from Morton Community Bank. You know what they say about it taking a village. Well, it took that and more.

Although Abby Reel and Mary Simon act as partners, Simon is quick to point out that Reel is the boss—“It’s her nickel,” she explains. No doubt there’s a mutual affection and respect between the two. Several times during our conversation, Simon leaned close to Reel, patted her hand and mentioned how grateful she is to her for saving the Barn—not only for herself but for her beloved troupe, who were displaced when the last incarnation went out of business.

“We make decisions together, collaborate [and] compromise,” Reel notes. “And I think it’s really interesting how similar we are… in terms of how we think about taking care of people.” In fact, before embarking on their partnership, Reel, a licensed therapist, asked Simon to take a personality test. She had an inkling that they shared a lot of common traits and wanted to know how they would work together. Read the rest here.

Innovations in Neuroscience

It’s projected that more than 12 million Americans—nearly one in 25—will suffer from a neurodegenerative disorder such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), Parkinson’s or dementia within the next 30 years. These diseases have lasting effects, not only for patients who live with the condition, gradually losing their physical or mental capabilities, but also the caregivers and family members who suffer emotionally and financially.

“Some studies argue that neurological conditions cause the greatest effect on lost ‘quality-of-life years’ compared to non-neurological conditions,” says Dr. Chris Zallek, neuromuscular disorders specialist with OSF HealthCare Illinois Neurological Institute (INI). “One reason neurological conditions seem so common and are increasingly present in the population is because our population is aging.” It’s a national epidemic with a significant local connection.

In collaboration with the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria (UICOMP), health professionals at OSF IN are making major strides in research to help detect and diagnose patients earlier, thus helping them manage the effects of their disease for a better quality of life. But research requires investment.

Two retired Caterpillar executives—both diagnosed with neurological disorders—have been on the frontlines of advocacy, raising money and awareness for their related causes. First diagnosed with MS more than 40 years ago, Larry Wallden reorganized the local MS Council to ensure that local funding stayed in central Illinois, while Ed Rapp, diagnosed with ALS in 2015, founded the Stay Strong vs. ALS charitable fund to find a cure and bring assistive technologies to others suffering from the disease. Their work—and that of many others—has been instrumental in putting Peoria on the map for neuroscience innovations and the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders. Read the rest here.

Breathing Life into an Historic Building

When Raphael and Katie Couri Rodolfi purchased the F. Meyer Block Building on Adams Street in 2017, they acquired a little slice of Peoria history. Built in 1885 as Meyer Hardware, the structure has seen its share of tenants over nearly 135 years, weathering economies good and bad. Having set up their own ventures in the building—alongside a pair of other businesses—the Rodolfis are in it for the long haul.

The entrepreneurial couple has longed to open shop in Peoria, initially setting their sights on finding a location along West Main Street near their home. When they couldn’t find the right space for their needs, they expanded their search to the Warehouse District.

“We really liked everything that was happening down here. The city had redone the streets, making it more pedestrian-friendly. Sugar [Wood-Fired Bistro] was established and Zion [Coffee Bar] was moving in,” Katie recalls. “So all of that felt more like ‘city life.’ We lived in Chicago for a number of years, and Paris on and off, so we appreciate pedestrian-friendly cities and all the joy that can come with that.”

The addition of rehabbed loft apartments within walking distance—including Cooperage 214, Winkler Lofts and Persimmon Lofts—also sealed their resolve to put their roots downtown. Shortly after purchasing the building, Raphael moved his video production company, Videogenique, into one of the open office spaces. “The structure has a lot of character, which is 100 percent what we love about it,” he explains. While his large, open space on the first floor remains largely unchanged, he quickly went to work updating the other spaces to accommodate potential tenants. “We made mostly cosmetic changes like painting, tearing out old carpet and replacing acoustic ceiling tiles with metal tiles. It made a huge difference.”

Read the rest here.

Building a Chamber

Maria Galindo and her brothers César and Arturo Vargas are first-generation Americans. Their father and grandfather first came from Mexico to the United States in the 1960s through the federal government’s bracero program, which allowed temporary guest workers into the country to work in the fields of the southwestern states. The entire family emigrated from Mexico in 1974.

“My father chose to move to Illinois, landing a factory job at Butternut Bakery, so he didn’t have to work the fields,” César explains. “Our family was part of a new wave of immigrants settling in Peoria.” They settled on the city’s south side, where Maria, César, Arturo and their four siblings grew up and attended school.

Today, César is an English as Second Language (ESL) teacher in Peoria Public Schools, helping the next generation of Spanish-speaking students achieve success in their education. Arturo, an artist, and his wife Carla opened Casa de Arte in Peoria’s Warehouse District last fall; while Maria is a teacher’s aide at the Valeska Hinton Center, pursing her degree in early childhood education while operating the Tianguis outdoor market in the summer. All are active in the Hispanic business community, but it was an outsider who helped them start up the Peoria Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (PHCC).

Enter John Lamb, attorney and global communicator for the Caterpillar Latino Connection, a resource group for Cat’s Latino employees. Lamb’s ties to the Hispanic community go back to his college days, when he spent a summer in Mexico doing missionary work. Upon graduating, he worked in Santiago, Chile for a few years before returning to his hometown of Nashville, where he served on the board of the Tennessee Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. After attending law school in Chicago, he joined Cat Financial supporting its Latin American subsidiaries, moving back to Santiago in 2012 before transferring to Peoria in 2016. Read the full article here.