ST. CLOUD -- A fundraising campaign has raised nearly $28,000 to get a new wheelchair-accessible van for a St. Cloud Tech High School gymnastics coach who has Multiple Sclerosis.

Colleen Stark-Haws was diagnosed with a progressive form of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) that has caused her to be in a wheelchair since 2007. MS is an unpredictable disease of the nervous system with no cure and no definitive cause.

"It was overwhelming, especially early," Stark-Haws says. "When I was diagnosed in 2006, I had this attitude that as long as I wasn't in a wheelchair, I'd be OK."

Joel and Colleen Stark-Haws
Joel and Colleen Stark-Haws

"And then to realize I wasn't in control of the disease, I went from being mobile to needing a cane to needing a walker to needing a wheelchair within a year."

Despite the disease, Starks-Haws continues to coach gymnastics today, drawing inspiration from the athletes she teaches.

"Their energy and their excitement about the sport and about being active continues to inspire me to celebrate the mobility that I still do have," Starks-Haws says. "There's always a silver lining -- there's always have something that you can cherish and believe in."

"The girls constantly energize me and because they see me as someone that is valuable to them. That motivates me to get out of bed and be the best [Colleen] I can be, because they rely on me as much as I rely on them for energy, motivation and inspiration."

(Photo: Joel, Colleen, and Eli Stark-Haws)
(Photo: Joel, Colleen, and Eli Stark-Haws)

Stark-Haws and her husband, Joel, have been coaching together for over 25 years. For much of the past decade, they have been using a modified van that is wheelchair-accessible, but they say it's seen better days.

"The door sometimes falls off," Stark-Haws says. "That makes people very nervous when our son has to be holding the door as we're driving."

To raise $47,000 for a new van, Joel's sisters kickstarted a campaign on that has raised over $27,000 in just over three weeks.

"It's unbelievable -- the support coming from our friends and family and all the people in the community," Joel Stark-Haws says. "Our cup has 'runneth over' -- we're just humbled by it and we're also so thankful for the support."

"The central Minnesota area really takes care of its own," Colleen Stark-Haws says. "We are just surrounded by people in our everyday life who will come through for you in your time of need and that's just incredible."

"It makes you believe that people are good and they want to support and bring people up."

If you want to help in the efforts to get Joel and Colleen a new van, you can donate by clicking the button below.

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