After weeks of constant headaches, body pains and days where he couldn't even leave the bed, Josh VanLoon got a boost of hope in his fight against multiple sclerosis.
The news that his niece – 8-year-old Callie Olson – had set her mind to giving him a new computer had brightened his outlook, and her untiring efforts to get the computer inspired him to keep fighting.
Callie came upon the idea after overhearing her mom say that Josh's MacBook had died. Around the same time, she learned she could win a free MacBook Air by selling 2,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies.
"One day she said, 'Mom, do you know if I sell 2,000 boxes of cookies I get a MacBook?" her mother, Julie Olson said. "I said, 'No, I had no idea you needed a MacBook," but then she said, 'No, not for me – for Uncle Josh.'"
A true group effort
Callie and others in the Olson family had no way of knowing the pain Josh was going through at the time, but their never-ending efforts – and the efforts of Maple Dale School employees, family friends and others in the Fox Point community – inspired him to keep living.
"There was a moment around December or January when I did not want to keep going because it was so bad. I thought if it's going to be like this for the rest of my life, then it's not even worth it," he said. "But when I heard what Callie was doing, I thought, 'Well, if Callie can do that, then I can deal with this.' It made a huge difference. You suddenly realize how extraordinarily wonderful everyone is. My body has never felt worse, but my heart and mind have never felt better."
Callie and Josh shared a special moment last week when Josh visited Fox Point from the Twin Cities, and she gave him the MacBook Air. With the new computer, Josh will be reunited with his passion – recording his violin in the GarageBand program and experimenting with new sounds in the music application.
"There are moments when I wish I could be playing music with my friends, but I don't want to watch them go out and party," he said. "Now I can sit at home and record music, which is creative and productive. I'm really looking forward to it."
The journey to health and wellness
While just tossing a baseball around with a friend six years ago, Josh noticed he would lose track of the ball until just before it would reach him. He shrugged it off, but his multiple sclerosis would become much worse, at one point "flaring up."
"The wheels really started to come off about a year ago, when I got really wobbly, and just had a hard time functioning," he said. "My vision was getting terrible."
He said it was in November when he experienced the flareup while at work. He struggled with hand-eye coordination, was sent home and decided to go to the hospital, but first stopped home where sat down on his bed for a minute, but couldn't get back up.
Josh spent some time in the hospital, where doctors performed a slew of procedures and started him on medications, which had him struggling for quite a while.
Over the past few months, however, Josh said he has started to "crawl out of having such a massive degree of difficulty."
"I'm starting to just get stronger," he said.
Getting a fresh start
On Friday, Josh began his journey to health and wellness, when he worked out with his sister Julie at CrossFit fitness center in Glendale.
It was Josh's first session with Marcela Perea, owner and coach at CrossFit, and it served as an evaluation run, to see what kind of exercises he could do. CrossFit is a high intensity conditioning-and strength-focused fitness program, Marcela said.
"Marcela tailors every workout to what you're capable of doing," Julie said.
Outside of physical therapy, he said the only exercising he does is walking around work, which proves to be a difficult task.
"People take it for granted," he said. "You don't truly understand how important a nervous system is until it starts to fail you."
Marcela started Josh out Friday morning with some stretching, stationary bicycle work, and other exercises targeting the whole body, which Josh hopes will help with his balance and overall well-being.
"It's beneficial in so many ways," he said. "It's something I really wanted to do because physically I'm sort of starting to snap out of it. My mind and heart are very strong, my body is kind of weak, and I want to get the body up there, too."