Land trainingWhen everything came crashing down around farmers Louise O’Neill and her husband Warren, the only way was up. Now she helps others on the land maintain their fitness – mentally, physically and emotionally.BY ANNA FLANDERS
Louise O’Neil is Farm Life Fitness. She is a health and wellness professional who specialises in farm-based families. As a farm-based agricultural professional in Denmark, she understands the day-to-day issues and challenges of living in rural areas. Yet through her own experience, she also understands the importance of exercise, mental wellbeing and working with someone who knows the unique demands of livng on a working farm.
Our story...“Everything came to the forefront for us when we were a month off having our first baby about 10 years ago. It was during seeding, but it just wasn’t one thing that was the catalyst. We had been fighting our demons for a while. Warren was ‘work, work, work’, like he’s always been, and he didn’t know how to stop to break that cycle; we were enduring the financial stress that every farmer goes through; we weren’t living on our farm, but renting another, which added time and more pressure; and I was mentally and emotionally drained with my first pregnancy. I was ill 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It didn’t stop until the day my child was born. I couldn’t comprehend how to put one foot in front of the other or even get out of bed. And I took that out on Warren.

“Meanwhile, Warren was going through his own turmoil. We were so far apart. We were living together and were with each other all the time. How can you be so disconnected yet live together? One day Warren called me and said a piece of machinery had broken down. There was a part of me thinking how dare he ruin my time of self-pity and selfwallowing. And I knew there were going to be financial and time repercussions. However, there was something telling me to go to him. I took a thermos, handed him a cup of tea, then when I was handing him something to eat while I was looking into my bag, I realised he wasn’t taking the food.

“I looked up and saw he was crying. It wasn’t a deep, guttural cry. He didn’t have the energy for that. He just looked done in. He looked how I had felt for the past seven months. He said ‘I’m done Louisa, I’m done. I don’t know how to lift myself out of this big black hole I’ve found myself in’. When he told me that and when I saw he was that raw and beaten, I didn’t know what to say. He dropped to his knees. His shoulders dropped, his head hung and I could see tears. I dropped to the ground and cried, too. We cried because we felt lost, we cried because we didn’t know where to go or who to turn to, we cried because we were angry, embarrassed and scared.

“After a while – I honestly couldn’t say how long it was – we got up. We left the tractor where it was and went home. That was the turning point. That was when our defences went down because we had nothing left between us – workwise, personally and relationship-wise. We were never in danger of splitting up, but we had really drifted apart. So, we just picked ourselves up and stepby-step, slowly, we worked things out. We tried to seek help but that wasn’t as easy as it sounds. It was only a yearand-a-half ago that Warren checked himself into Perth Clinic and got a diagnosis of ADHD and anxiety. But that was after trying to get help with local doctors for several years. It’s an ongoing project, but we have come a long way.”

“ Escaping to a gym is rarely an option. What you need is a way to get fitter and stronger that works with your farming life.  ”“I wanted to create a space where women like me can access practical health advice, wellness resources and exercise workouts designed with farm life in mind,” she says. “Escaping to a gym is rarely an option. What you need is a way to get fitter and stronger that works with your farming life.”

Louise has a sports therapy and psychology/counselling background. She has pulled together a team of likeminded professionals across exercise, counselling and pre- and postpregnancy exercise and wellness and pilates. Together they deliver an online exercise and wellness program tailored to individual needs and a live online group fitness class.

The movement classes are all about working with what you have got. There are no pieces of equipment to purchase, instead Louise is an advocate for using what you have on the farm, such as a water trough, machinery, firewood or even building materials laying around. The exercises are designed not only for fitness, but to help clients move safely and lift safely around the farm.

She says her goal is not only fitness, which also affects safety, but also happiness and productivity, too. Time and location are no barrier, instead clients are taught how to incorporate exercise and mental health strategies into their lives.

“Just because we choose to live [in the country] it doesn’t mean we should miss out on these types of services,” says Louise. “There is no other job that requires us to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and farming should not be one of them. We need to give back to ourselves.”

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