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Michigan State tennis star Jasper Koenen leads by example

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Jasper Koenen
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Koenen, MSU’s tennis team captain, learned at an early age the value of giving back, and how kindness can leave a strong impact.

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State tennis player Jasper Koenen was once a nine-year-old, laying sick and scared in a Louisiana intensive care unit. That time gave him a sense of purpose, as realized what he wanted to do with his life: give back to others.

He was seriously ill with kidney failure, landing him in the ICU for 11 days – all while Hurricane Katrina raged outside him in New Orleans.

“It was really scary,” Koenen said. “There was a lot going on within our family and the community. It was definitely a really scary time.”

The stay was not only tested his physical and emotional fortitude, but also taught him about being a part of something bigger than himself.

Koenen, who loved tennis, was visited by members of the LSU tennis team. He was in the latter stages of his treatment, so he was able to receive visitors. The players hung out with Koenen, traded tennis stories, played games and took his mind off the devastating storm, tiring days of treatment and negativity in his life.

“Those guys coming (to the hospital), they weren’t there long, but just them being there for a few minutes just made a huge difference,” Koenen said. “It showed me that’s what I want to do. They showed me how important is as student athletes to give back to the community. If I get the chance, I want to be able to give back to the community, big or small.”

Koenen understands what they did, taking the time to talk, play games and share stories with him, isn’t helpful to everybody in his condition.

But for a sick child, it meant the world. It showed him that somebody cared about him. He made a promise to himself, that if given the chance, make sure he’d give back to the community in a similar way LSU did for himself.

“We have the opportunity to play a sport that we all happen to be really good at across all 25 sports we have,” Koenen said. “And that’s what makes it special. To see people in the community happy to see us, just as happy as we are to see them, that makes it extra special.”

In his time at Michigan State, Koenen has made his promise a reality. He’s used his upbringing in a tennis family and adversity from his time in the hospital as a touchstone to his college career on and off the court, giving back to the MSU community in a big way.           

Koenen serves as president of the Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC), an organization which has two representatives for every sport on campus. Those duties also span into the Big Ten, where he also serves as MSU’s representative on the athletic council.

His SAAC meetings occur twice a month, while his athletic council meetings take place once a semester in Chicago. Add planning, research, fact checking and organizational skills that he puts to the test every day with hundreds of athletes across multiple sports at Michigan State on top of his duties as a senior captain of the tennis team, and Koenen stays busy.

Koenen’s, decisions affect hundreds of student athletes on campus in East Lansing and and thousands more throughout the conference. Plus, he’s a full-time student, majoring in hospitality business.

“I think he’s got a great group of people behind him,”said Michael Dube, who is a fellow captain, and his former freshman year roommate. “He’s really connected to, and has a good friendship with a lot of people. He really organizes himself well. If you were on our team, you’d be able to attest to that. He sends out reminder texts (of when practices, meetings, games, etc. are) and stuff like that. He keeps a very strict schedule, and I think he’s very organized and very tight knit with a lot of people who keep him focused and on task with what he wants to accomplish.”

Coach Gene Orlando called Koenen one of the greatest all around students he’s coached in his 26 years at the helm of the Spartans.

“I’m sure it starts back home with how he was raised and his parents and his caring attitude,” Orlando said. “I think we’re all influenced by our past, how we learn from it, and how we move forward and how we can make a difference in people’s lives. He’s a great guy both on and off the court. He genuinely cares about everyone that he comes into contact with. And on the tennis side he works hard and is a great competitor, and team comes first.”

Upon graduation in the spring, Koenen will be joining a Nike full-time. He did a summer internship at their Oregon headquarters, which has led to this full-time opportunity.

“It’s exciting adding Michigan State and East Lansing as one of the places I’ve been,” Koenen said, reflecting on his journey the past 21 years from Belgium, to the Netherlands, to Louisiana, to Chicago and now MSU. “It’s super bittersweet it’s coming to an end, but I’m enjoying all the time I have with this group of guys on the court. Having them next to me and doing it with them has been so fun. Even the results that might not show for our team, we put in so much work, we do the right things.

“I’m super excited about my next steps, but going to enjoy the last couple months I’ve got here before focusing on adulthood.”

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