On a recent cool and clear afternoon at Fort Island Gulf Beach in Crystal River, Bruce Titus, 24, said it was a perfect day.
“I love it here,” he said. “Growing up in Citrus County, when I was a child, my family often came here, watching the sun go down, swimming in the water, building sandcastles.
“It’s the only thing I miss,” he said.
In 2016, as he was cycling down Citrus Avenue in Crystal River on his way home one evening, a car struck him from behind.
The accident left him paralyzed from the chest down, locked in a wheelchair.
Although Titus is very adept at moving around in his chair and doesn’t let the chair stop him from living his life to the fullest, the beach remains a challenge.
He can get from his car to the sidewalk next to the parking lot, and from the sidewalk to the washroom pavilion, and maybe one of the covered picnic tables next to the washroom.
But he can’t go to the water.
“I can ride on regular grass and sand, but not sugar sand or beach sand,” he said. “That’s the problem … I love nature. I like to be outside.
“There’s a place in Old Homosassa where I’m going, near Mason Creek Road, a little path that goes down to the water. It’s off-road, but it’s manageable, ”he said. “But it would be nice to swim at the beach again.”
His solution: install a beach access mat compliant with the American Disability Act (ADA) that would allow people in wheelchairs to cross the sand to the water.
“It started out as a persuasive essay for an English class, writing about the benefits of a rug,” Titus said. He is currently in his second semester at university preparing for a career as a designer.
In his research for the trial, he found that many great beaches, including some in Florida, offer Mobi-mat beach access mats, which are self-sustaining.
The cost varies by size, but Titus estimated that a mat from the parking lot to the water at Fort Island Beach would cost between $ 1,500 and $ 2,000.
So what started as a school assignment turned into a crusade.
“I am very motivated to accomplish this,” he said. “At first, right after my accident while in rehab, I couldn’t even sit up on my own – no abdominal muscles. So I learned to use my arms for everything.
“Your daily life in a wheelchair is all about problem solving,” he said. “You always think about how to do things differently, because you can’t do them the way you used to do anymore. So every day you have problems to overcome, with new challenges.
He said he hoped to gain the county’s attention, especially after posting his idea on Facebook and getting a number of responses from others in his same position.
“One person made the comment, ‘Nobody is thinking about the way the other is moving,’” he said. “At first it was about me, but after hearing from the others, it’s not just for me but for so many others.”
Titus emailed Citrus County Parks & Recreation proposing his idea, but it was turned down.
“Parks & Recreation staff have explored additional accessibility options for Fort Island Beach,” Veronica Kampschroer, county public information officer, wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “However, this was not feasible at the time due to staff and budget constraints.”
Despite this, Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach said she believed the idea was ‘brilliant’ and would like to pursue it and help make it a reality. She also said she had just read about a similar situation in California with a young woman who started a local effort to get a wheelchair mat at her local beach, so she knows its importance to a community.
“The problem with the government is that even though the community raises the money to buy the carpet and install it, you need staff and you need storage, and we don’t have any,” she declared. “You can’t just leave it on the beach overnight because someone will steal it.
“But it’s something that I would be very interested to work on and promote,” she said, adding that maybe there is an organization with volunteers and storage space that can step in and help. .
“Something like being able to go to the beach is something we take for granted,” she said. “And we should be able to have something that is ADA compliant that could give people more freedom and make their lives easier.”
Titus said he was eager to present his request at a future county commission meeting and hopes it will spark the interest of those who can make it happen.
“When you think about it, a rug would bring so much more business to the area,” he said. “People in wheelchairs come here and would like to use the beach and spend money here, so it would benefit everyone, residents and visitors.
“I’m really passionate about this,” he said. “I’m at the point where now it’s time to go on an adventure, do new things and move on with my life.
“It might sound crazy, but I like being in a wheelchair now. It took me a while to get used to it, but now my confidence is at its peak and I feel normal again, ”he said. “It’s normal life for me.”