After 10 years of dealing with Multiple Sclerosis, everything is getting harder for Colleen Stark-Haws.
The St. Cloud Tech/Cathedral gymnastics coach, who runs the program with husband Joel Stark-Haws, is seeing the effects wear on her. She’s confined to a wheelchair after being able to move around in the early stages of the disease.
Since 2006, she has gone from being able-bodied to having little or no use of her lower body, arms, back and hands.
“When I look at what I’ve been losing, I would give anything to have that mobility now in a heartbeat,” Colleen said.
She remains upbeat and enthusiastic about another gymnastics season. Tech competes in the eight-team St. Cloud Apollo Invitational at noon Saturday.
The Tigers, who have qualified for the last 10 state Class 2A tournaments, see two state powers Saturday, including Class 2A defending champion Roseville Area and Perham, an eight-time state Class A champion that won titles from 2004-11.
Tech took second last season. Cambridge-Isanti, also competing at Apollo, took seventh in 2A. Big Lake, another team at Saturday’s invitational, was sixth in Class A.
Joel and Colleen will get to the meet in a modified 1995 Plymouth Voyager mini van. It’s well past its prime and is on its last legs.
“Honestly, we are blessed to have that,” Colleen said. “Wheel chair accessible vans are very hard to come by.”
Their family is making an effort to replace the vehicle with a new one. They have created a page on www.gofundme.com/joelcjvan. They’ve raised more than $19,500. The goal is $46,000.
“It’s amazing,” Joel said. “The support is unbelievable. It’s very humbling and rewarding.
“It fills our hearts with much joy to see the support out there.”
Joel and Colleen have coached gymnastics together for 25 years. They’ve coached at Tech since 1997. Last season, the two were presented with the Minnesota State High School League Class 2A Coach of the Year award.
They’ve both been inducted into the state gymnastic coaches’ hall of fame.
Colleen is in charge of the state coaches’ association rankings. She is aware of virtually every gymnastics score in the state. She can tell you that Detroit Lakes, for instance, scored a 149 in its opener, a very impressive score.
They remain dedicated to their sport and their athletes, working hard in their summer program.
They have one of their younger teams this season, but a promising one.
Tech lost seven seniors from last season’s squad, including key state contributors Sarah Lommel, Margaux Schmid, Emily Dorn and Tori Aycock.
This season’s team has three seniors. Expected to make the biggest impact is Kalley Thompson, who is in her first year in the program after being a club gymnast.
The Tigers will rely on juniors Lara Aycock, Allison Seehusen and Tess Scholtes, sophomores Jodi Lipp, Taylor Terfehr and Rachel Wintheiser and ninth-grader Meredith Matchinsky,
“The kids are have worked very hard and have committed again to put the time in during the summer,” Joel said.
“They feel the responsibility to not drop the torch,” Colleen said.
Joel and Colleen have known each other since junior high school. Both were three-sport athletes at Cathedral and captains in their respective sports.
Colleen started coaching gymnastics at age 14 in her backyard. Joel was involved in 4-H and guided youth canoe trips through Les Voyageurs.
Joel works with at-risk students at the St. Cloud School District’s Area Learning Center.
They married after college. Their son Eli, a 2015 Cathedral graduate, is in the Army and plans to become a nurse.
He’s the one making jokes about the van. The door is falling off. It’s questionable how much longer it will be reliable and it gets a lot of use. The van makes the trek all over the state for various gymnastics meets.
A new vehicle will make their lives easier as Colleen continues to battle MS, which affects the nervous system. The body’s immune system eats away at the protective nerves. It’s incurable though treatment may help, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
“It’s a very strange disease,” Joel said.
Follow Tom Elliott on Twitter @sctimestom or call 259-3661.