Kickstart My Charitable Heart

Rodney Taylor puts his two-wheeled passion to good use

Published in 2009 Indiana Super Lawyers — March 2009

Rodney Taylor can trace his love of motorcycles back 40 years.

Long before he became a successful personal injury attorney with Christopher & Taylor in Indianapolis, or a husband and father of four, he was a boy in Wayne County of Southern Illinois, where roads stretched out straight as far as the eye could see and teenage entertainment options were limited. Motorcycles were a natural fascination. "Most of the city kids were running around on new Hondas, and the rest of us were relegated to old Harleys," he says.

The appreciation he developed for his Harley-Davidson bike never wore off; he still owns one today—it's suitably broken in—and rides it all over the country. "I'm a creature of habit," he says. "There are a lot of wonderful motorcycles out there, and some are so technologically advanced it's amazing. [As for my bike,] I'm partial to it, but it's a traveling machine. It's not a show bike."

Taylor has found a way to bring motorcycling into his professional life as well. In addition to his work in personal injury and business litigation, he serves as counsel for the Motorcycle Riders Foundation and the Indiana, Illinois and Ohio chapters of American Bikers Aimed Toward Education (ABATE), a nonprofit group dedicated to safety, education and advocacy for motorcyclists.

Taylor takes on cases involving motorcyclists at reduced rates and provides free legal advice and educational material for his biking clients. He's a stubborn advocate for the personal freedom that motorcycles represent.

"In this country, there are a lot of folks, and they mean well, but they want to take care of other people [with legislation]," he says. "Of course, once you start down that avenue, what about gymnastics or football or horseback riding? The freedom to do those things is the fabric of American life. It's always safer just to build a block house in your back yard, get enough food to last you the rest of your life, and shut the door and stay there. You may live a long time, but you'll regret it."

Taylor prefers a scenario in which motorcyclists are thoroughly educated and trained before receiving a license, and then are allowed to choose what risks they'll accept. "Before ABATE offered the Motorcycle Safety Foundation courses, if you wanted to learn how to ride, the state of Indiana would give you a pink slip that allowed you to practice riding on the highways. In essence, you could do that for 30 days, and if you were still alive," he says with a laugh, "they'd let you ride around some cones and they'd give you a permit."

However, Taylor believes that ABATE has made great strides. "We offer motorcycle safety courses and we have literally scores of volunteers that come in and teach all these classes and they do a wonderful job," he says. "We're very proud of our record. At one time, the Indiana Department of Education estimated that ABATE instructors, through the training courses, have saved over 600 lives—and that doesn't include injuries and property damage. The concept is to educate, not legislate."

Taylor has been able to do some saving of his own in his legal career. "I think it's always gratifying when you're able to take care of someone who's been badly injured, especially if they're the breadwinner of the family," he says, citing a case in which a man enjoying a ride on his lunch hour was hit by a truck whose driver turned without signaling. "He was disabled basically for life. Probably one of the proudest things I was able to do was when the bank was about ready to foreclose on his home ... I wrote his insurance company saying, ‘Look—it's Christmas time, it's a case of liability. Can you find it in your heart to advance this man some money so he and his wife can stay out of harm's way and preserve their home? We'll give you credit for this on the back end, and we're not charging any attorney's fees.' Two weeks later they sent a check. The client received it on Christmas Eve. I was stunned."

Taylor's heart and favorite hobby have come together in another way as well. More than 20 years ago, his outlook on life was changed by a chance visit to the renowned Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. "I've been so lucky in life," Taylor says. "All of my children and grandchildren are wonderfully healthy. I went on a tour of Riley Hospital, and you cannot walk through that place without asking, ‘What can I do to help?'"

He found a way. In 1994, Taylor worked with his friends to organize Miracle Ride, a fundraiser to benefit Riley Hospital that featured about 100 riders. "It was me, my wife and some of my ne'er-do-well friends," he says. "We had a ride and cookout in the park rained out by some of the fiercest thunderstorms God ever created. I pretty much thought that would be the end of that event."

Taylor was wrong. These days, 8,000 to 10,000 motorcyclists line up in front of the hospital on a spring morning to show off their bikes. The governor and many of the Colts players lead the ride to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is reserved for the day's events. The children who are healthy enough to go outside watch from the lawn and those who are confined to the building peer eagerly from the windows. "The kids who can come out have all these red wagons—those are their ‘wheelchairs' for the day," Taylor says. "They're just as cute as they can be—a lot of them still have IVs hooked up."

Inspired by Miracle Ride's success, Taylor also helped found the Indianapolis Air Show, which also supports Riley Hospital via the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

Planning an air show is difficult, but Taylor—an FAA-licensed pilot himself—enjoys it, and from the very beginning he has involved his whole family. "I'm a big believer in volunteerism," he says, "and I try to teach my kids the same."

The two events are extremely successful, attracting more than 200 corporate and individual sponsors and sizeable crowds. "We could go over $5 million in contributions to Riley since 1994 from the two events this year," Taylor says.

Despite these astounding figures, Taylor is self-effacing when it comes to the time he devotes to charity. "It keeps me out of the bad places," he jokes.

Then, more seriously, he adds: "I've had this almost paranoia that no one cares anymore," he says. "You know what I want to do? I want to sit in my back yard, drink my own home brew, barbecue for my neighbors and look at the stars. That's what I want to do. But we all need to carve off a part of our time, our precious time, to do something good—and, selfishly, I do two things that I like. I like aviation, I like motorcycles. I mean, it's not a hard thing."

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