IF Ping Exciminiano looks like someone who who had been to hell and back, it was because he was.
In January last year, the Olongapo-born six-foot guard out of Far Eastern University was a day away from signing a contract renewal with old PBA ballclub Rain or Shine when he figured in a freak accident in a ligang labas game.
The mishap left Exciminiano with a Grade 1 tear in his Achilles, without a contract and therefore without medical insurance or team support to cover the surgery, and a future that turned from rosy to bleak in a wink of an eye.
Looking back, Exciminiano felt like his whole world caved in.
"Ang hirap ng pinagdaanan ni Ping at ng kanyang misis," said player-agent Danny Espiritu, who took Exciminiano under his wings during the lowest point of his life and helped the player get back on his feet.
When Espiritu says that Exciminiano and his wife's trials and tribulations and subsequent triumph from adversity looked tailor-fit for a Maalala Mo Kaya episode, he wasn't exaggerating at all.
Without a team, Exciminiano had to take care of his own hospitalization, surgery, recovery and rehabilitation while dealing with the stigma of an ill-advised decision when word of his ligang labas injury leaked out.
Unknown to many, Exciminiano bared the reason he accepted the invitation to play in a ligang labas game was because of a bad business deal that left him and his wife with a massive debt to pay on their own.
It was so big, he said, that it ate up the family's finances.
"Halos 'yung suweldo ko, napupunta sa pagbayad sa utang namin," the 32-year old told SPIN.ph. "Kaya magulong-magulo ang isip ko noong mga panahon na 'yon, taranta sa paghahanap ng ibang mapagkakakitaan."
When word of his injury leaked out, he chose to keep silent.
"Hindi na lang ako nagsalita kasi kahit anong sabihin mo, mali pa rin 'yung ginawa ko," Exciminiano said. "Kaya pinili ko na lang na manahimik."
What he did was endure the six-month recovery process in silence then committed himself to rehabilitation. Espiritu said the Exciminianos chronicled the player's rehab in video form, which came in handy when it was time to go looking for a PBA team that was willing to give the seven-year veteran a second chance.
That team turned out to be TnT, which, after seeing videos proving that Exciminiano is back in full fitness, gave him a tryout.
After weeks attending TnT practices, he was rewarded with a one-year deal last week.
No one was happier than his new manager, who promised to pay Exciminiano's salary if he failed to sign with a new team.
"Happy na happy ako para sa kanila," said Espiritu. "Pasalamat nga ng pasalamat silang mag-asawa, pero deserving naman talaga si Ping na makabalik dahil magaling at masipag na player."
As for Exciminiano, the guy likes to believe he's better and wiser.
Asked if he'll accept another ligang labas invitation again, the soft-spoken player let out a laugh and a big NO.
"Never na po," he said shyly.