Why I Started the Race: Richard Propes’ Story

Richard Propes created The Tenderness Tour – which eventually became Race Away From Domestic Violence. He writes about why he created the event, what it means to see it its sixteenth year and more.

ICADV: What inspired you to create the Tenderness Tour?

Richard: The Tenderness Tour started in 1989 with a 41-day, 1000 mile wheelchair ride around Indiana. It very much started out of my own healing journey from childhood sexual abuse and really having gotten stuck in the abusive cycle.

On that first tour, I left Indianapolis alone with a backpack on my wheelchair, $20 in my pocket, and a handful of press releases announcing this grand idea to wheel around Indiana despite never having done anything like it before. Much to my surprise, I actually succeeded.

Along the way, I found my voice as a survivor and realized that a lot of other survivors wanted to be heard. So, I returned from that first trip and it really became the inspiration for getting my own life back together. I sure didn’t ever picture myself continuing to do Tenderness Tour events 30 years later and my 30th anniversary is this year. I’m celebrating by participating, as I always do, in the Race Away From Domestic Violence, and by also doing a trip from Elkhart to Indianapolis over Labor Day week later this year.

The first time I worked with ICADV was actually a 1-person Tenderness Tour that resulted from my having learned about domestic violence involving someone in my family. As someone who has worked my entire adult life to break the cycle of abuse/violence, I was just horrified to see it unfold so close and like a lot of people who run/walk/roll in this event it really started out as a coping skill. Harriet Clare, who retired from ICADV a few years ago, was a longtime friend and supporter of mine and she really let the organization know “This guy’s legit!”

They loved my event that first year and adopted the event as their official 5k the next year. It’s actually something I’d always hoped to see happen – that an event would take my small idea and turn it into something bigger and better. I’m a better activist than a fundraiser and it’s been exciting to see the event grow in so many ways while maintaining certain Tenderness Tour values. For example, on the Tenderness Tour I’ve always wheeled “rain or shine” because my attitude is that violence doesn’t stop in the rain so we can’t stop trying to end it in the rain. I’ve also always been grateful that they’ve always used the word “roll” in the event to honor its roots. Truthfully, ICADV has always treated me incredibly respectfully.

ICADV: What compelled you to work with ICADV/fundraise for DV survivors?

Richard: It started with that family experience. I started it as a coping skill to deal with domestic violence – that’s that part of the event that most pleases me now. That we see so many teams formed that are honoring the memory of loved ones. I mean, I’m practically in tears every year with Heather’s Voice and their continued honoring of Heather’s life. She died far too young, but I love that they are maintaining her legacy in amazing ways. The same is true of other teams, as well. This year, the “Miles for Mal and Mere” team is just so inspiring. The passion and desire to make love stronger than hate is what made me start the Tenderness Tour.

I picked ICADV, quite honestly, because of Harriet Clare – she had once co-owned a bookstore in Broad Ripple and carried a book I wrote. She was one of the first people to truly believe me and to empower my healing through the arts. The Race Away became my way of thanking her in many ways.

ICADV: How do you feel about the event entering its sixteenth year? 

Richard: To be honest, I shed a tear even reading this question. I’m in awe of it. I’m 53 years old now my Tenderness Tour days are winding down. I’ve far outlived my life expectancy with spina bifida and it’s exciting to think that this event could very well outlive me and continue working to end domestic violence in Indiana long after I’m gone.

While I’m in awe of the hundreds of walkers and the thousands of dollars raised, I’m most grateful that the event is truly organized in a way that reflects the idea of breaking the cycle.

Tuxedo Brothers, as the event organizer, is amazing. They’re genuinely good people. The event also has consistently amazing volunteers. I’d also add that it has been inspiring watching Melissa pick up the reins from Cindy Lanane after she retired.

ICADV: How has the event evolved over the years in your eyes, is it what you expected or no?

Richard: Well, of course, it has grown massively. I love watching hundreds of people from all different backgrounds. We’ve been in a small handful of different locations, but I’ve really enjoyed the last few years at City Market – they’ve been such a wonderful partner. I think certain things I’ve seen – I certainly see more men participating than in the early years. I love that. I love the balance of runners and families including those with strollers. I do wish we had more participants with disabilities – being in a wheelchair myself, I think the route is fairly wheelchair friendly. We’ve had a handful of participants who are wheelchair users, but I’d still like to see that grow. I really think we’ve been fortunate – we’ve had great emcees over the years, solid media coverage, and consistent attendance. Even on a couple of occasions, it has rained, I’ve been really impressed with those who’ve shown up and put in their 5k.

I don’t know that I can say I ever “expected” it to grow like this, but I’d always hoped it would. As a very grassroots organizer for most of my events, I remember being really traumatized the first time we hired an event manager. But, Cindy was absolutely correct. It was the best thing in the world for the event. There’s still room to grow, of course. We’ve come close to, but never passed 1,000 participants. I really want to hit that benchmark. While the event continues to grow in fundraising, I’d also really like to see it hit six figures. I think people who participate love the event. It’s a warm, fun, passionate, and effective event. We just need to keep getting the word out!

ICADV: What do you hope people gain/learn from participating in this event?

Richard: Above anything, my hope is that the Race Away From Domestic Violence truly does contribute to breaking the cycle of domestic violence in Indiana. I want it to be a healing event for those who’ve lost loved ones to domestic violence. I want it to feel empowering to those who’ve experienced domestic violence so that they’ll know they’re not alone. It’s also really, really important to me that those who participate in the event feel cared about and appreciated, including the participants, the volunteers, the crews, and everyone else. I want this event to stand out as being as much about the mission as it is about the fundraising. Of course, I do want it to continue to be successful and to support the incredible work that ICADV is doing. I truly hope that the Race Away From Domestic Violence does its part to make Indiana a better place to live for men, women, children and families.

To learn more and sign up for Race Away From Domestic Violence, click here.

To learn more about the Tenderness Tour,  click here.

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