Abuse, disability activist travels more than 5,000 miles in wheelchair during Tenderness Tours

Richard Propes finishes the Race Away From Domestic Violence 5K race on April 28, 2018. Every year, Propes tries to participate in as many awareness events as possible alongside his Tenderness Tours. Richard Propes, Photo provided.
Richard Propes finishes the Race Away From Domestic Violence 5K race on April 28, 2018. Every year, Propes tries to participate in as many awareness events as possible alongside his Tenderness Tours. Richard Propes, Photo provided.

For abuse and disability activist Richard Propes, hope and love are worth spreading no matter the distance. 

Propes recently finished his 29th annual 100-mile Tenderness Tour in a wheelchair in Muncie to help raise awareness for victims of abuse and empower those with disabilities — a journey he began in 1989 to escape the series of tragedies he suffered at the time. 

Two years before his first Tenderness Tour, Propes lost both his legs to a bone infection, his wife died by suicide and his newborn child died under undetermined circumstances. 

The series of tragedies left Propes with “a thousand miles of anger” to work through. Starting in 1989, Propes left Indianapolis with $20 in his pocket, a backpack on his wheelchair and a few press releases to let people know that he was starting these Tenderness Tours. 

“I travelled alone, and it was at a point in my life when I had kinda given up,” Propes said. “I just kind of felt like I needed to find out if there were good people in the world.”

Propes travelled 1,000 miles in 41 days for his first tour while raising money for Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, an organization he chose to support to work through his childhood memories as a sexual abuse survivor. 

Over the course of his journey, Propes never went without food, water or a place to stay. People offered him “kindness after kindness” to see him safely on his way. 

“I thought that I would fail, and I would find out that people were kind of the evil-doers that I thought they were, and boy, was I proven wrong,” Propes said. “I think the reason that I keep doing the tour is that on that tour… I learned that there is a lot of hope, and I think that once you experience hope on a really grand level, you can’t not share it.”

Propes began to turn his life around when he came back from the first tour. People told him he couldn’t work and had to live on disability because of his leg amputations and a birth defect of the spinal cord called spina bifida.

However, Propes sought to prove them wrong. A former Martin University student, Propes returned to college and graduated at the top of his class. The day after graduation, he found a job. 

Now, Propes works for the Governor’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services Commission to lower unemployment among those with disabilities. 

Propes hopes to use the money raised for this year’s Tenderness Tour to fund a $500 annual scholarship awarded in October. The scholarship will help send a student with physical disabilities to the Erskine-Green Training Institute in Muncie to provide them with the skills needed to succeed in the workforce. 

Originally, Propes hoped to raise enough money to fund the scholarship for the next ten years, but he surpassed his fundraising goals and can now fund the program for the next 12 years.

For Tenderness Tour volunteer Anne Burget, Propes’ charitable success, despite his disabilities, should encourage everyone to change the world and aid other people in need. 

“I guess this tour might raise awareness about how empowered we can be if we choose to be, to just do something,” Burget said. 

In total, Propes has travelled more than 5,000 miles and raised about $500,000 for charity through the annual Tenderness Tour event. 

Propes has travelled to Chicago, Cincinnati and all over Indiana to raise money for the event, but one day he hopes to take his wheelchair to the road and travel across the United States to improve the quality of life for those with physical disabilities and raise awareness for victims of abuse. 

Contact Adam Pannel with comments at arpannel@bsu.edu

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