Being her own boss.

Esther Gombor

At least 6 minutes

Every morning, Monday through Friday, I go to the Good Life Fitness at Union Station. It’s busy, but I find the gym at that time – pleasantly – to be a solitary place. The people aren’t antisocial; there are smile, nods and quick hellos between regulars. It’s just that if you’re getting up before 6:00 a.m. to exercise, you’re there to exercise and you stay focused on that.

Every morning, Monday through Friday, Esther Gombor is at the Good Life, too. She is there to work out and respects that others are, too, but she also makes time for a quick conversation with the people she sees regularly. Having gotten to know her, I wanted to find out: “What gets you up and to the gym every day?”

Her initial response when we sit down to talk – “It’s a great motivator to stay disciplined. It gives you a kick-start to the day.” – sounds like the response many people give. But as we spoke, I learned how important that discipline is for her.

We had to have six hours of physical eduction every week.

Esther was born in Hungary in 1970 where physical activity and playing sports were a significant part of her schooling. “Hungary is a very poor country – to this very day – so prevention is the most important thing, instead of treating diseases. We had to have six hours of physical eduction every week.”

Hungary - map
Image credit: CIA World Factbook

Long jump, high jump, rope climb, running. She was tested on her skills and there were expectations of performance. She was never one of the top students because of a car accident when she was younger, but she liked the measuring because she could place herself. And it gave her a feeling for the benefits of regular exercise.

Esther’s family left Hungary when she was 16 and she arrived in Canada when she 18.

Esther’s family left Hungary when she was 16 and she arrived in Canada when she 18, living on Martha Eaton Way at Keele. Showing up in a new country for the final year of high school was difficult. She felt isolated and her self-esteem was low, but she stayed active, doing aerobics at home along with tapes and DVDs. Attending York University was a better experience. “I was no longer the new girl. Everyone was new.” She was busy with school, and fit in exercise when she could.

Good Life Fitness - Station Street
Image credit: Google

It was after finishing school and working for a few years that she became a member at the Good Life at Union Station where exercise became more structured and more regular. That was 20 years ago and she has been a member ever since.

She started her first full-time job at 28 in the midst of the internet boom as a project manager at a video game producer. After that she taught technical writing at Centennial College for a time and earned a master’s degree from the University of Toronto along the way.

Then, seven years ago, her work life came to an end. But not in a bad way.

I never had to work again.

A few years earlier Esther had the good fortune of meeting someone who included her as an investor in a project in which she had no other involvement. “It was just me tagging along. Then, at 38 I got fired [from the job I had] and, as good luck would have it, that is when my investment started to kick in – divine timing! – and I never had to work again.”

Like, ever. Forever. A fabulous gift right? Apparently it’s not as easy as that.

“It poses a great deal of responsibility on you because now you have all this time and you’re not forced to do anything. So what are you going to do still be productive?”

This is where the discipline of daily exercise fits in.

I assume all the responsibility of how I spend my time, and how I fill it and how I waste it.

“That is why the gym is so important to me. It gives definition to the morning and gives me the chance to show discipline which I’m so not forced to do. So I take this very seriously. I assume all the responsibility of how I spend my time, and how I fill it and how I waste it. The gym is a fragment of my day when a thing is expected of me, when I have to deliver. I need that. I don’t have that placed upon me. So the only demand I have placed upon me is the demand that I place upon me. This I miss by not working.”

My first thought was: “That’s a problem I’d like to have!” But as I think about it more, I wonder, “With the freedom to do nothing, would I do anything?” I’ve always liked the jobs I’ve had, but if I didn’t have to be there to get the money for rent and groceries, a life and an eventual retirement, would I stay? Would you? If I undertook some project, what would push me to get it done?

“You have to be self-motivated and so self-driven to do these things and that’s when I really started to value what I have and my time and I wanted to be a useful person. I didn’t want to waste these opportunities.”

Esther is grateful for what happened and, given her background, is viscerally aware of her good fortune. “I have a very good life which I have never worked for. A lot of things were handed to me, to be honest with you. My life is carried on a silver platter so I can’t afford not to be grateful.”

I’m a religious person because I cannot not be religious given the things that I have experienced in my life.

She doesn’t know why, but Esther believes she has been chosen. “I am a religious person because I cannot not be a religious person given the things that I have experienced in my life.”

On the other hand, I cannot be a religious person given the things I have experienced in my life. But listening to Esther I understand how someone could. She feels it so deeply, so personally, that her logic isn’t circular. It’s simply tight.

It all started in 1977 when she was 7 years old with a premonition of a car accident before a trip with her aunt and uncle. A voice told her not to go. She was adamant, but was sent anyway. She experienced that terrible car accident, was seriously injured, but survived. Hear her describe the experience here.

She asked a priest later, “The voice said I was going to die, but I did not. Why not?” He told her that she did all she could as a 7-year-old to heed the warning, and so was spared.

“Then I didn’t care for a long time about this situation. But when life started to get harder and I needed that kind of support from whoever and I never found it, then I always remember that there was somebody out there who did this for me. I cannot afford not to listen anymore.”

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because it worked out fine the first time I did listen!” she answers, laughing.

In her situation, and with the fortune that came later, I might think the same. Or I might not. But it’s working OK for her. You could say it’s Pascal’s wager with an advance on the payout, but for her it isn’t a bet. She knows. She believes. She has experienced. She doesn’t need faith.

She researches miracles like those she felt happened to her when she was young and puts them on her website, Journey to Sainthood. “I write about religion a lot, but not to inflict on anybody anything. It’s just the way I experience it.”

God is being really lenient with me, disproportionally lenient, and I adore him for that.

Her experience adds weight to the gift she has received, and it gives her a reason to be responsible. “I think I’m a good person, but I do have a lot of flaws and faults. But for some reason, God is being really lenient with me, disproportionally lenient, and I adore him for that. I feel undeserving of his love, but I’m aware of it, and that’s why I have such a loyalty to my religion.”

It’s a pretty good reason to get up and go to the gym every morning, too. To do something with the life and the gifts she’s been given.

It’s kind of what gets me there every morning, too.

What gets you up every day?

Profile photo credit: Richard Sibbald

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