Jure Koscak: Transcontinental Travel, Transformation, and Table Tennis for a Cause

March 11, 2020
“With each year that passes by it means more and more to me that we accomplished this…I will be able to tell my grandchildren about this when I have them someday.” – Jure Koscak, creator of the SELP project ‘24ur Namizni Tenis z Razlogom’ (24 Hours of Table Tennis for a Reason)
Landmark graduate Jure Koscak.

What happens when one of the top table tennis players in Slovenia decides to take the Self-Expression and Leadership Program all the way in London, U.K.? For Landmark graduate Jure Koscak, it was one of the most transformational times of his life, filled with breakdowns and breakthroughs, ultimately leading to a 24-hour charity tournament in Murska Sobota, Slovenia.

“I was already playing table tennis for 18 years in 2008 when I began this project,” Jure shared in a conversation with Landmark Forum News. “I’d done the Forum in 2007 and one year later the Advanced Course, and immediately after, I signed up [for the Self-Expression and Leadership Program].”

Deciding on a cause

“I didn’t know actually what exactly SELP was,” Jure says with a laugh. “I knew that there were projects to be…impacting or inspiring the community. But I really had no idea.”

Jure Koscak (right) with mentor Alice Bonaldi.

For Jure, ‘community’ could have meant Spain, where he was living; or London, where he took the course; but he ultimately chose the city of Murska Sobota in his home country of Slovenia. Talking with his program mentor, Alice Bonaldi, Jure was drawn back to the time he spent volunteering with the Department for (re)habilitation of children at the University Rehabilitation Institute in Slovenia. “I was in university, and one of my professors invited me to help with a hospital Olympiad…I had never [been friends with] someone who was mentally or physically disabled before that because I had never been around them, because society pushes us away.”

Jure decided to make the children’s rehab facility the focus of his project. “I knew that they needed funds…I was diligent, integrity-wise, and I just pushed myself through. I had children that were–not counting on me, but I just wanted to hand them the gift after.” Once Jure made the choice of who he wanted to support in his community, it simply became a question of how.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

As he began the Self-Expression and Leadership Program, Jure was facing a major challenge–he’d become unhappy enough in his table tennis career that he ended his current contract. Then, two weeks into the four-month long London program, Jure walked away from professional table tennis completely. “I was fed up,” he says.

So now Jure was unemployed, with an apartment and life in one country, a four-month course in another, and a cause he was dedicated to in a third. He had to find a way to support himself in London while simultaneously building a project that would support the rehab center. “I needed a Tube card, I needed rent, I needed to get food–I had to go out and get a job.”

Jure handed out flyers at a discotheque…for about an hour. That didn’t work for him, but it did cause him to notice the rickshaw drivers, and “I decided to give it a try.” Jure rented a bike for a one-week test, and he was off–wrong side of the road, no knowledge of the area, and all. “I went through these breakdowns regarding finances, regarding food; I didn’t know how I will pull through what I had put myself into…I had a lot of breakdowns when I was driving rickshaw.”

Left: rickshaw garage. Right: Jure taking friends on a rickshaw ride around London.

But there were also amazing experiences even in the midst of the chaos, things Jure had never encountered before: “I remember once I was driving two friends, guys over 70, and we were singing ‘Y Viva España’ all over London; we passed their hotel like three times because we didn’t know where we were going!”Jure credits the tools and mentorship in the course as making all the difference. “I’m not exaggerating; it was like that, where everything fell together…There was no option, there was no possibility for demons to win.”

The view of Jure’s clients during rickshaw rides.
Choosing table tennis because you choose table tennis

Travelling the length of the city by rickshaw had another benefit for Jure–it helped him find the inspiration for his project: “I was in London, and I saw some ads for a 24-hour something, and I said ‘Let’s play 24 hours of table tennis!’”

A copy of the score card from Jure’s 24-hour marathon event.

Suddenly, the avowed former professional table tennis player had the game back on the table–in a very motivating way. As the plan crystallized, Jure was reaching out to other athletes, connecting with potential donors, and flying back and forth between his different communities to create the event. “I was inspiring lots of people in my SELP group. They’d say, ‘I feel so crazy taking the metro one hour and you’re flying!’”

Jure took on sharing himself and making big requests, and it was paying off: “I was gathering famous athletes in Slovenia, their equipment with signatures, and we did an auction.” He even called a former Olympic athlete and asked him to attend, but the man was a commenter at the Olympics in Beijing at the time (“I still remember sitting in Hyde Park and calling him!” Jure says with a laugh).

“I was asking a lot, demanding a lot; but they felt some desire from me, some integrity from me, and they stepped in. I was worried–will no one come, will I be alone…And it wasn’t 100 [competitors], it was 20, and it was amazing–how we all came together, the support there was. For me and for others.”

The results of playing a big game

“It was amazing how everything came together in those twelve total days that I was there [over the course of the program], because the rest of the time I was in London.”

Competitors in the ‘24ur Namizni Tenis z Razlogom’ event.

Jure was committed to his event succeeding, and it did. The sports hall, the food, the live media coverage–everything he needed for the event was donated by area supporters. There were roughly 20 competitors, professional athletes who donated their time to play, and only the player whose home was right next door even went home to sleep; the rest stayed at the hall the entire time. Even Miss Slovenia came to play table tennis with Jure and support the cause!

Most competitors stayed at the event the entire time, sleeping in the hall between matches.

The event itself raised about €3000 ($3,300 USD), and the final tally with the auction results more than doubled that amount. Thanks to the people and organizations who had donated everything needed to run the event, Jure was able to every euro they raised to the rehab center.

Miss Slovenia on the court in support of the rehab center.
Inspiring others and finding inspiration

“It seems so cliché how when you put your mind, your heart, and soul to it, and with proper guidance leadership–as they do in the SELP–how many people’s lives can be influenced,” Jure comments. “Decision-wise I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. I wasn’t an alien! It was small steps, and favors, and talking to people.”

Some of the many volunteers and players who helped make Jure’s SELP project possible.

Jure’s project inspired a lot of people to make a difference for Murska Sobota, and his personal transformation during his Self-Expression and Leadership Program was equally inspiring: from quitting his career and almost needing to visit a psychiatrist due to his conflict with the game in 2008, Jure ultimately took only one year off and then played professionally for two more years before becoming a coach in 2011.

“I don’t have any regrets,” Jure says. “With each year that passes by it means more and more to me that we accomplished this…I will be able to tell my grandchildren about this when I have them someday.’”

Jure (in white) posing with the London graduates of his 2008 SELP course.

Jure Koscak can be found online hosting the Being the Genuine Athlete podcast.

Do you have an amazing Self-Expression and Leadership Program project you’d like to share with the greater Landmark graduate community? Check out our FAQs: Submitting Landmark Projects and Transformational Story Ideas to Landmark Forum News.

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