The top Google hits for Zoltan Gera call him the hero of West Bromwich Albion, an English soccer team, for a goal he scored against Liverpool. Fans were even more impressed when Zoltan scored an over-head, backwards goal against Manchester United and the famous Cristiano Ronaldo.
He celebrates the goal in the same way he celebrates every score — with his trademark cartwheel-backflip combo across the field. It takes a lot of energy to throw acrobatics into a full-length soccer match — something Zoltan couldn’t have imagined as a teenager with a reduced lung capacity due to his addiction to huffing chemicals.
Across the pond, soccer is a big deal. So the hero reference makes him a rough equivalent to Tom Brady or Nick Saban in the States. In his native Hungary, he might even be bigger than Saban.
The now 38-year-old soccer player had a rough start to life, but eventually overcame his addictions to be one of the top footballers — that’s what they call them over there — in Europe.
Growing up in Budapest, Zoltan only had one goal in life: He wanted to be a mobster. He was a talented soccer player, but he had his mind on drugs, gangs and getting into trouble, according to CBN.
Zoltan thought he was better than the soccer players on TV, but he couldn’t be sure as long as he was doing drugs. Doctors told him he would never be able to play soccer because of what he had put his body through — years of sniffing glue and heavy drinking had taken their toll on his system.
Still, he doesn’t blame his upbringing for his wrong turn. His parents were a middle-class, working family who always had enough and gave Zoltan everything he asked for. It was his friends at school who tempted Zoltan to get into trouble.
Soon enough he was skipping school and spending all his money at casinos. His first love, soccer, even took a back seat to drinking and drugs.
“This is when I started to think about the meaning of life and what I wanted to end up doing,” Zoltan told the Evening Standard. “I planned to become a criminal, a real godfather, feared by all, who robs people and fights them every day.”
By the time he was 16 years old, Zoltan had dropped out of school and stopped playing soccer. His father, however, wasn’t ready to give up on him just yet.
Near Death to Eternal Life
Looking back, Zoltan believes he would be dead by now if his father hadn’t intervened. He took Zoltan to church with the hope the teen would be saved.
The first few times at church didn’t phase Zoltan too much. Then one day his father grabbed him and dragged him to the front of the church to have people pray for him. That’s when the young mobster-wannabe’s life changed. He quit drinking and drugs and decided to return to soccer. It would take a lot more practice and training to get his body in shape again, but he was determined to get fit.
Zoltan also prayed for strength to overcome addiction and get back into sports. Over and over he offered up one simple prayer: “Please God, help me get back into football. If you lift me up, I will praise your name with my football.”
And that prayer was answered. At 17, he was recruited to play for a Hungarian soccer team before moving on to other teams throughout England and Hungary. Today, he is recognized as one of the top Hungarian soccer players of all time.
Never Too Late
There’s one message Zoltan wants to share with people: It’s never too late to change. He knows there are other kids and teens who are going through the same things he went through — drinking, drugs and gang activity — but there’s still time to turn their lives around.
“When I speak to my friends or other people about my past, they cannot believe it and think that I’m joking. I have shown that everyone can change,” he told the UK-based Mirror. “Faith is the most important thing to me now because I know that changed my life and saved my life. I want to try to serve God every day of my life as good as I can.”
And more importantly, if it wasn’t too late for a Hungarian, glue-sniffing kid to turn his life around and end up as a national treasure, it’s not too late for you.