New mat paves path for disabled to enjoy the beach

Treasure Island is first in Pinellas with feature

TREASURE ISLAND, Fla. — Jimmy Ortiz grew up around Treasure Island, but navigating the sand in his wheelchair is now impossible.

“The beach has always been a natural part of our life, and not to be able to access it has been really heartbreaking,” said his mother, Samantha Hernandez.

His mother hasn’t been able to bring him there in a long time.

“As he got older and we couldn’t lift him and carry him anymore, I actually used a luggage cart,” said Hernandez.

But then with the community’s help, came a 400-foot pathway over the sand called the MobiMat RecPath.

Special Needs teacher Colleen Hernandez, a friend of Samantha, did some research to find it. Gators Cafe & Saloon helped the cash-strapped city by paying $21,000 to buy it.

“I take advantage of going to the beach so often and was sad that she couldn’t enjoy the same thing that I do with my family,” said Colleen Hernandez.

The mat is the first of it’s kind in Pinellas County. 

There are only a handful around the state.

“I don’t even have words what it’s like to come over that boardwalk and not have to stop,” said Samantha. 

Jimmy’s rare genetic condition left him blind, but the beach calls to his other senses.

“He loves the — the feeling of the waves coming over him and he loves to put his hands and feet in the sand, and just to feel grains of sand,” said Samantha. 

While the path was built to help the disabled, anyone can use it.

“We have a great beach anyway, but to accommodate those people that have needs that this provides a solution for, is wonderful,” said Treasure Island Mayor Larry Lunn.

“He’ll be 16 years old in June and we want him to do all the things that typical teenagers do. Including hanging out on the beach all summer,” said Samantha Hernandez.

Environmental restrictions prevent the city from bringing the mat all the way to the water, but there are plans to extend the “T” in both directions.

There is an official ribbon cutting ceremony on May 17 at 5:30 p.m.

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