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Sunday 24 September 2017

How one farmer reinvented himself after a horrific farm accident

Richard Weldon has become an inventor and entrepreneur five years after losing the power in an arm in a farm accident. Photo: Dylan Vaughan
Richard Weldon has become an inventor and entrepreneur five years after losing the power in an arm in a farm accident. Photo: Dylan Vaughan
Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

'It happened in the blink of an eye.'

No stranger to machinery, Richard Weldon, didn't think twice about fixing the broken harvester on his farm in Rush, North Dublin, on a cold November morning in 2011.

The high-flying parsnip farmer, who was turning over €2m a year on his 400ac holding that he ran with his brother Jackie, was too busy thinking about the tough harvest ahead, spraying that had to be done and the supermarkets trucks en-route to collect their vegetables for the week.

"I never thought about accidents when I was farming. Between the pressure from supermarkets and worries about the weather, I was working around the clock. I was going around like a zombie. My wife, Philomena, would say 'you look like an accident waiting to happen'. I didn't listen to her but she could see it and it happened," he said.

Richard and Jackie Weldon took over the family parsnip business from their father in 1992. Under their stewardship the initial 40ac enterprise, ballooned into a thriving business and the duo became the biggest parsnip growers in the country.

"We were supplying every shop in Ireland except Tesco. We were supplying 26 Superquinn shops. Feargal Quinn was regular in the yard - he'd a new pair of rubber boots on him every time!" he said.

"Dunnes Stores and Quinnsworth came on stream and it we just built and built and built. Then Aldi and Lidl came on board and made us realise there was a market for trays of small parsnips that we had been throwing out for pig and cattle feed," said Mr Weldon.

With 22 full-time staff, debts of just €300,000, and a significant and steady annual income, life was good but relentless on the Weldon farm.

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"All we were doing was working. We didn't live a hectic life, we played an odd game of golf," said the 57-year-old father of two.

But over time success changed. "It went from working for yourself to working for supermarkets, and that's what it has become for all growers. The pressure has multiplied, you can't just enjoy watching the crops grow anymore," he said.

However tough things were before the accident, they quickly spiralled out of control after that fateful morning when his resident mechanic was away on holidays.

"I went out before the lads started harvesting to fix the machine myself. It looked simple to do but I cut the wrong thing and I got wrapped up in it.

"My arm was twisted completely around in a circle from the elbow down. I was caught for 18 minutes before a farmer down the road heard me roaring and came running. It took over an hour to get me out of it," he said.

Mr Weldon was rushed to hospital where a surgeon informed him that the tendons in his left arm had been separated.

The lack of circulation in his arm for 18 minutes had damaged his arm to the point that he would never have the full use of it again.

"Me not working? I never believed him for a second. But two months later, when they removed the plaster off and I saw my arm properly I knew I was in serious trouble," he said.

He said if he was a livestock farmer it would have been easier to manage the injury.

"You can feed cattle with a tractor but in the veg end, it's all about spraying and packing, everything is done by hand"

"All of a sudden I couldn't open the sprayer or pour it in. All the little things you take for granted I couldn't do them anymore. Spraying is so important, it can make you or break you, no one else ever did it only me," he said.

The psychological blow was also taking a toll.

"The head was taking it and things got worse and worse. It ended up that I wouldn't come out. One thing led to another and I had a bit of breakdown. I was a different person, I couldn't accept what happened to me," he said.

"Everything in my life turned black, it was all doom and gloom the blackness took me over completely"

After two difficult years and a lot of deep thinking the Weldon's decided the time had come to close the business.

"Interest was disappearing every hour and the job was falling behind. We both decided this is it. We hadn't the fight in us to do it all for another year," he told the Farming Independent.

Despite enduring the heartbreak of shutting down the family business, Mr Weldon believes they made the right decision for their own health and happiness.

However, it became too difficult emotionally to continue living so close to the fields where he had once prospered, so Richard, and his wife Philomena, relocated to her native county of Kilkenny.

"I did another year of doing nothing but we weren't out tilling when everyone else was, so it was very difficult to look out at it. We moved down here, it's only an hour and 20 mins from Dublin and there hasn't been a week that I haven't gone back up for a day," he said.

Although he no longer lives on a farm, a kind neighbour, Frank Keown, allowed Mr Weldon to walk his fields in an effort to help his recovery. In turn he has re-invested himself.

"I love to walk. I walk his farm everyday and that's where I got the idea for my new venture into sports and exercise equipment," he said.

Two weeks ago, the former farmer launched his state-of-the-art training aid that can help you play better golf - the ProFitStick. "It was a calling I had all this time that I never knew I had. The future is bright again," he said.

Striking out in a new direction

Five years after his accident, Richard Weldon has become an entrepreneur and inventor.

The ProFitStick is a flexible pole that can be used with other resistance aids and was created by Mr Weldon with his life savings after attending Carlow IT to design the 'go anywhere' fitness kit.

"I went back playing golf after two years, playing one-handed, and tried to develop this to help myself recover. That developed into a warm-up tool and when I realised I couldn't work any more I moved to Kilkenny and I have been working on these projects ever since with the help of Enterprise Ireland.

"Hopefully we can get the word out and we can bring other ideas to the market too," he said.

Recommended by the Golfing Union of Ireland and European Tour physiotherapist Orlaith Buckley and used by a host of sports people including soccer stars Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, the ProFitStick can be also be used a s a warm-up tool before your usual round of golf or as an aid to recuperation from an injury or surgery.

Mr Weldon hopes to attract investors so he can take this lightweight and totally portable product to the next level. Given the interest already been shown by golf retailers this €29.99 invention could be about to take off. Find out more at www.profitstick.com

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