Like many of us, Ben Ikin likes to start his day with his favourite coffee – but this week, his hot brew will taste a little different and be a little bit harder to drink.
Starting from today - November 2 - Ikin will be taking part in SIP Week, which challenges everyone to drink all their beverages through a straw, just like many people with a spinal injury do every day, to help raise funds to find the cure for paralysis.
"I've done SIP Week before and the two hardest things for me were my morning long blacks and drinking water during a round of golf,” Ikin said.
“The coffee is hard because it completely changes the experience, and as for the water, well, let's just like to say I like to drink lots of water, and fast."
It’s a cause that is close to the heart of Ikin who has become good friends over the years with Perry Cross, the creator of SIP Week, who is also a C2 ventilated quadriplegic.
When he was 19, Cross ran out onto the football field to play a game of rugby union, but after a tackle that went wrong, his life changed in an instant.
Since then, Cross, who is also the founder of the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation, has been focused on trying to help raise both awareness and funds into research to cure paralysis, and SIP Week was one easy way to highlight one small aspect of what life is like for those with spinal injury.
“I obviously suffered a spinal cord injury the result of that, one of the challenges I am faced with every day is drink all my drinks through a straw,” Cross said.
“It probably sounds like a reasonable thing, but when you have got to do it every day, all day, every drink, it’s a bit of a challenge.
“So that was the reason behind it all, to try and encourage people to experience what life is like for some people with spinal cord injuries.
“You don’t have to run a marathon, you can just drink your drinks through a straw and I think it’s a simple message for people to understand, so that was sort of a driver for it.
“The reason we are doing it is to raise money to find a cure for paralysis.
“For people with spinal cord injury; it’s a life-long injury, which is really, really debilitating and often people are living in tragic circumstances if they don’t have the right supports around them and if they don’t necessarily have an ideal living situation.”
Cross has been pleased to see people taking on board the challenge, including Ikin, who he first met when they were both in their teens.
Ikin visited Cross when he was a member of the 1995 so-called ‘Neville Nobodies’ Queensland Maroons team which secured a 3-0 whitewash series win and the side presented cross with a wheelchair accessible van (main image).
“That’s when I met him, as a pimply-faced 17-year-old in in ’95,” Cross laughed about his friend.
“I was 20, Ben was 17. We lost contact for a lot of years; Ben obviously had a long footy career and got involved with his media work.
“(But) in the last 10, 15 years, we reconnected, and he’s been a great supporter, a huge supporter.
“Obviously, rugby league has been touched by spinal cord injury as well, and Alex McKinnon has been involved in SIP in the past, it’s a broad-reaching thing, more prevalent than people realise.
“Ben’s been a big support of ours … we are very grateful to Ben for coming on board and we encourage people in the community, whether they know someone with a spinal injury or not to jump behind a great cause …
“A spinal injury can come up at any time, the most common cause of injury is motor vehicle and it’s something we don’t often think twice about.
“It’s a really simple (for people to get involved in SIP Week); it’s a challenge itself to do it for the whole week.
“Coffee or tea, it’s a rude shock, you have got to be always mindful you are drinking drinks at the right temperature, they are little things, but important to some people.”
Ikin also encouraged people to have a go at the challenge; but if they though it would be too difficult to achieve, to support the cause by donating to someone else having a go.
"Even if SIP week isn't for you, jump online and have a look at the amazing research the Perry Cross Foundation has supported in the area of spinal injuries, it's quite incredible,” Ikin said.
“And while you're there, maybe just drop in a small donation."