Blind entrepreneur takes a crack at selling handmade whips
VERNAL — From the time he was a teenager, Jeremiah S. Espinoza has loved the ear-splitting crack of a whip.
"The whip is actually, the tip of it is breaking the sound barrier — 768 miles per hour," Espinoza said.
But Espinoza was never satisfied with the whips he could buy, so he learned how to make his own whips. His are made out of nylon cord though, rather than traditional leather.
"It lasts longer than leather does," Espinoza said.
Others took notice of his craftsmanship and he began getting requests from friends.
"So I made them one," Espinoza said. "Then I started getting calls."
The prospect of selling the whips led Espinoza to start his own company — The Blind Man's Whips — about three years ago.
If the company's name seems odd, consider this:
"I am 99.9999 percent blind," Espinoza said. "In a nutshell, I can't see."
That wasn't always the case. Espinoza was a Ranger who fought in the first Gulf War. But he suffered a serious fall after coming home and was given a medical discharge from the Army.
Then his eyesight began to fade.
"They call it Leber's optic neuropathy," Espinoza said. "I actually have holes in the backs of my eyes, and it's more or less like looking through pinholes, only you're looking through the bottom of a Coke bottle and it's all fuzzy and distorted."
Espinoza said his inability to see doesn't hamper his ability to braid the whips, riding crops and dog collars he sells. Instead, it makes him better.
"I don't worry about watching my hands," he said. "I just let them do the job and they do a pretty good job by themselves."
Still, Espinoza's disability did raise questions when he went to the Utah Small Business Development Center in Vernal to seek help obtaining some additional funds for his new business.
"I thought, 'I have perfect vision and I can't braid whips,'" center director Mark Holmes said. "I was soon convinced that he had a product there."
Impressed by Espinoza's "tenacity," Holmes nominated him for the center's Client of the Year award, which Espinoza received earlier this year.
"He embodies that spirit of entrepreneurship," Holmes said. "He gets knocked down and he gets back up. He gets knock down and he gets back up. (He's) doing something he's passionate about."
Espinoza, who has sold whips to customers in the U.S., Canada and Italy, is recovering from recent wrist and elbow surgeries. But he's still dedicated to making his business a success, despite the pain, and refuses to let the word "can't" slip into his vocabulary.
"The word 'can't' means I already gave up," Espinoza said. "I don't give up."
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