My history with the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence began years before our paths finally crossed in September, 2003.
The first time I thought about using my wheelchair as a form of grassroots activism was in 1989. I was a not quite 24-year-old paraplegic/double amputee living, though not living very well, with spina bifida. I had already far exceeded both the life expectancy and life achievements handed down from most of my healthcare professionals, though you probably couldn’t tell that from the way I was living.
In most ways, I was a miracle but I sure didn’t feel like one.
I was in an intense downward spiral, years of being caught within the cycle of violence having worn me down to the point that I was a self-destructive, suicidal wreck. I was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and had just experienced the suicide of my wife and death of my newborn daughter. In the months that followed, I lost my home, my finances, and even both of my feet which took me from being mobile by crutches to primarily using a wheelchair.
When one particularly dramatic suicide attempt failed miserably, I began to ask myself “Why am I really here?”
I wanted an answer.
So, I came up with this idea that was inspired by a recently acquired tattoo that was supposed to say “Tenderness” but actually still looks like “Tendermess.”
Yep, that’s me.
I decided to travel the roads of Indiana, by wheelchair, for 41 days and over 1000 miles. I wanted to raise money for Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, but more than anything I really just wanted to figure out if there was a reason to keep on living. I called it “The Tenderness Tour,” because tenderness is what I was searching for in a world that had largely been devoid of it.
On the day I was scheduled to leave, October 9, 1989, I arrived at the downtown offices of Prevent Child Abuse Indiana on Mass Avenue and prepared to leave. I’d convinced myself I would fail and that said failure would be my excuse for “really” giving up this time. Much to my surprise, EVERY news channel in town showed up to share my story.
I didn’t even know I had a story to share.
For the next 41 days, I traveled the roads of Indiana alone in heat and cold and rain and even a completely unexpected snowstorm in Evansville. I slowed down, but I never stopped. I broke down a couple times, but I never stopped. I was really, really slow…but I kept going.
When I arrived back in Indianapolis in mid-November, I not only wasn’t suicidal anymore but I knew there was hope and I knew it was my job to share it in whatever ways I could for whatever time I had left on earth.
I came back from that first “Tenderness Tour” and began the slow process of changing my life and breaking my cycles. I found my way into subsidized housing and moved out of my car. I encountered the amazing presence of Father Boniface Hardin, founder of Martin University, and he dragged me into Martin University to finish what seemed like an impossible degree. I let go of unhealthy people and activities and began attracting healthier people and activities into my life.
I kept wheeling.
I’ve wheeled to Chicago three times, Lexington, Cincinnati, and in various events all around the country. Every year, there’s at least one Tenderness Tour event and I’ve wheeled over 6,000 miles and spoken to civic groups, city officials, schools, churches, and pretty much anyone who will listen. I’ve helped organizations raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, usually in small amounts at a time, and over the years my life has become more amazing.
I graduated from Martin University as valedictorian of my class (I had no idea I had a brain!). I worked at Winona Memorial Hospital for nearly 10 years and have worked for the State of Indiana for the past 11 years with the Bureau of Developmental Disabilities Services. I’m a homeowner and author of “The Hallelujah Life” and run TheIndependentCritic.com, one of the web’s top 20 film review sites.
I wasn’t planning to start an “event” for ICADV. However, in 2003 an e-mail of concern received from a friend unexpectedly revealed domestic violence issues in the life of a loved one. While most of my Tenderness Tour events had been wrapped around the issue of child abuse, I knew I needed to do something. I’d long been aware of Harriet Clare, at the time on the staff of ICADV. When I was early in my healing journey, Harriet’s former bookstore Dreams & Swords had carried an early version of my book and had really encouraged my voice.
I trusted her.
So, I wrote her about my idea – a one-day, 25-mile wheelchair ride in Indianapolis raising funds for ICADV to be held on my mother’s birthday – September 6, 2003. She loved it. She encouraged it. MUCH to my surprise, rather than just sit back and accept whatever funds were raised the staff from ICADV showed up and offered amazing support.
That’s it right there – the first very “unofficial” Race Away From Domestic Violence was a 1-day, 25-mile wheelchair ride from Broad Ripple to the ICADV offices on September 6, 2003.
The next year, a handful of walkers wanted to get involved but, let’s be honest, not everyone’s made for doing 25-mile journeys. So, we settled on a 9-mile walk with a rally that emphasized awareness over fundraising but, of course, still had some fundraising in there. By the next year, the 5k event was in place and the “Tenderness Tour” was beginning its transition into what is now known as the Race Away From Domestic Violence, an event that has for several years now involved hundreds of walkers/runners/rollers raising thousands of dollars for ICADV.
For the next several years, the Race Away From Domestic Violence continued to grow from being mostly organized by ICADV staff and volunteers to having the essential involvement now of the magnificent Tuxedo Brothers. They’re amazing and they truly “get” the vibe and importance of the cause and those who participate.
While I’m no longer an essential part of “organizing” the Race Away From Domestic Violence, I participate in the event every year (I’m the weird, enthusiastic guy in a wheelchair who stops and talks to kids and tries to cheer you on!). This year, I’m making a concerted effort to build a bigger team, “The Tenderness Team,” but I’m in awe each year as I see teams form from local non-profits, government agencies and, maybe more than anything, by families and friends of those we’ve lost to domestic violence.
If you ever wonder if your one voice matters…just remember that the Race Away from Domestic Violence quite literally started off as one voice saying “I need to do something!” and becoming a remarkable tribe of activists, fundraisers, athletes, walkers, survivors and miracle workers because we’re not meant to walk, run or wheel this journey alone.
I hope to see you on June 2nd – I hope you’ll introduce yourself!
Register for the 15th Annual Race Away from Domestic Violence here.
Help support ICADV by setting up a First Giving page!
To learn more about Richard’s Tenderness Tour events visit http://tendernesstour.com.