HIS was a true Cinderella story, rising from the streets of Cebu to become one of the most popular guards in the PBA.
Success, however, was fleeting for Jimwell Torion.
As fast as his rise was the downward spiral for the career of a player who, seemingly by fate, came to be known as 'Tora Tora' after he got embroiled in a drug controversy back in 2003.
After testing positive and getting banned indefinitely by then commissioner Noli Eala, Torion was able to return after an eight-month layoff but was never the same again.
A year later, his once-promising PBA career was over. Just seven seasons after being brought in as a direct hire of Red Bull, the Cebuano guard was out of the league at the age of 34.
Needless to say, life from there wasn't easy.
“Grabe talaga struggle pinagdaanan ko," the 5-foot-9 spitfire told SPIN.ph as he looked back on a colorful career after playing a 'ligang labas' game in Marikina City.
“Yun nga ang struggle, nahirapan at nanibago ako sa budget… sa pera. Yung mga anak ko may gusto sila, hindi ko mabili agad. Hindi katulad nung araw, bili dito, bili dyan,” added Torion.
As money ran scarce, so did true friends.
“Nuong araw, isang batalyon ang kaibigan ko. Tapos isa-isang nawala nung wala na ako (sa PBA). Ganun talaga," the former Red Bull star guard continued.
"Kung active ka, marami kang pinsan, marami kang kaibigan. Pag wala na, dahan-dahan na silang lumalayo. Ang kagandahan lang, yung pamilya ko, hindi ako iniwan. Proud pa rin sila sa akin."
Torion, though, never once gave up, determined to tide his family over through the tough times.
He relocated to Cebu and put the house he was able to buy in Manila up for rent. Rent money and help from close relatives took care of the family's needs and the children's schooling.
“May bahay ako dito sa Maynila, pinarentahan ko. Yun ang sumusuporta sa pamilya ko, 'yung bahay, tapos mga kapatid ng pamilya ko tinulungan ako,” he said.
Torion also invested in several units of tricycles in Cebu, often driving one of these. “Yung mga tricycle na rin na yun ang ginamit kong service para ihatid ang mga anak ko sa school at pag may mga pupuntahan kami,” he said.
He also became a fixture in 'ligang labas' games, accepting invitations left and right and accepting whatever amount he is given, even if most of the time the money isn't enough.
“Mahirap umasa sa mga laro. Kasi bukod sa seasonal siya, minsan aabutan ka lang ng dalawang libo kada laro. Ang pinakamalaking kinita ko lang sa larong labas eh twenty thousand pesos, sa Lucena, after nun wala na,” said Torion, once one of the highest paid players of Red Bull.
“Mahirap i-describe 'yung buhay ko nuon. Basta nuon, everyday, kung ano makaharap namin, nilalabanan namin ng pagsisikap,” he added.
Years passed and Torion is starting to turn the corner.
“Napa-graduate ko rin 'yung panganay ko, si Barbara Tracie. IT (Information Technology) siya. Ngayon nagtatrabaho na siya sa Globe. Maganda na ang lagay nya run,” he said.
Torion is determined to see the rest of the brood through. His second child, Jamellah, wants to become a teacher while his son and namesake, Jimwell Jr., and the youngest, Carl Rome, now play for secondary and tertiary teams of Jose Rizal University. He has another daughter, Jannah.
Not all his friends, it turned out, abandoned him. Former Red Bull teammate Kerby Raymundo gave him a chance to train his kids - and it has opened up a new window of opportunity for the former PBA star.
“Sila Kerby Raymundo, malaki rin natulong sa akin. Kasi isa siya sa nagturo sa akin ng bagong career. Ipinagkatiwala niya sa akin 'yung anak nya, ginawa akong personal trainer,” he said.
“Ngayon 'yun na ang isa sa trabaho ko, may anim akong tinuturuan ngayon."
Life still isn't easy for Torion, and there are days when he's still filled witgh regret over a PBA career that was laid to waste. But he's determined to fight on for the sake of his children.
“Nung mawala ako sa PBA dun ko na-realize lalo ang halaga ng pamilya ko. Kasi sila na lang halos nakaramay ko," he said. "Nawala ako sa PBA pero kinaya ko, pero di ko kayang mawala ang pamilya ko.”