Mats for the Beach? Accessible Pools? Thank Paralympian Parks Official

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Benepe and Calise in Brighton Beach yesterday Photo: Daniel Avila/NYC Parks & Recreation

Today's Times brought the news of new beachside mats the Parks Department installed in Brighton Beach, bringing the joys of sand and surf to the wheelchair-bound. But as it turns out, that's far from the only accessibility initiative Parks is set to unveil, and they're all largely thanks to Victor Calise, a 35-year-old Queens native who has used a wheelchair since he flew over his bike's handlebars — without a helmet, folks — in a 1994 accident and in October became the Parks Department's first accessibility coordinator.

Calise has already overseen the opening of a new softball field with extra-wide bases at St. Vartan's Park in Murray Hill and an accessible football facility in Forest Park in Queens; upcoming projects include a swimming pool with a movable floor that rises to meet a wheelchair, coming to Flushing Meadow-Corona Park. He grew up "playing stoopball, punchball, stickball," he says, switched to sled hockey ("we strap our bodies into our skates instead of lacing them up"), and made it to the 1998 Paralympics. His boss, commissioner Adrian Benepe, is a big supporter of his efforts. "We're getting ready to renovate a playground at 100th Street and Central Park West and replace some sand with a surface a wheelchair can use," Benepe told us. "Some preservationists are up in arms. Well, Victor is an example. He's in a wheelchair but he has young children who are not, and he wants to play with them." He's not the only one. —Alec Appelbaum

Related: Smoothing the Way for Those Seeking a Day at the Beach [NYT]