THE life journey, let alone the sporting journey, of Callala Bay's Ben Atkins, is one to be absolutely revered.
If you look at him now, you wouldn't understand the highs and lows the 70-time capped Pararoo has made during his 28 years on earth.
To appreciate it, you have to go back to the start, when Atkins was born on June 26, 1991, with cerebral palsy.
"I didn't deal with it [having cerebral palsy] too well, either did my parents, as they didn't know what to expect after the diagnosis," Atkins said.
"They didn't know if I was going to be wheelchair-bound or be able to be independent - as none of us had anyone to relate to."
But finding the NSW cerebral palsy football team (a side he's now won 11-straight national titles with), after starting his career with the Culburra Cougars and Callala Brumbies, changed his life.
"NSW helped me come to terms with it all and helped show me ways to manage it," Atkins said.
From then on, he never let CP stop him from playing the sport he loved; football.
So much so, as a nine-year-old, he set himself a goal to one day play for the Pararoos.
As well as his career was going on the field, his life of it, especially at Shoalhaven High School, was getting tough.
"Academically I did quite well but I never felt like I did as well socially," he said.
"Sure I had a great group of friends but they were kind of mates you'd hang with at school and not really outside of it - I never felt totally included."
But that wasn't the case with the Pararoos, who he got his first taste with as a 15-year-old, as the team prepared for the 2007 CPISRA World Cup in Brazil.
Related content:Atkins' World Cup journey with Pararoos ends on a high note
"Prior to getting into disabled sport, I didn't really want to classify myself as someone that hung out with other disabled athletes," he said.
"I always had this perception that people with disabilities were weird or didn't have the social skills to fit into society and have independent lives.
"But as soon as I found the Pararoos, I felt as though I'd come home - all the guys in the team were cool, very welcoming and adjusted to society."
This high of being in the squad quickly changed, as Atkins got cut from the squad leading into the October 23 to November 1 event.
"I thought I'd done enough to make that team and when I didn't get selected, I was absolutely devastated and heartbroken," he said.
" I got a call from the coach and he explained I wasn't good enough and hadn't earned my spot.
"It was at that moment that I wasn't going to let anyone else control the outcomes in my life."
Atkins used this low as motivation, training every morning, committing 100 per cent to his dream.
"I hadn't taken making the Pararoos that seriously up to that point but it was a set back I needed - it completely changed my career," he said.
The next year, he made his debut for the Pararoos against Canada - a game they lost 1-nil.
"I was originally slated to make my debut against world number one Russia the game before but a disability test involving endless stairs wrecked me and my legs were done," he said.
"As I didn't want to let the team down, I chatted to the coach and explained how I still couldn't walk from the day before - I think the pressure got to me a little.
"So I missed that game and debuted against Canada, scoring my best goal, to this day, for Australia - unfortunately, it just so happened to be a top-corner header for the other team."
Not long after this, Atkins made the move to Sydney to train full-time with the side.
Although he returned briefly to the South Coast soon after, dealing with some mental health issues, Atkins' football career has never looked back.
"Football has given me the opportunity to go overseas and develop a level of independence that I wouldn't have necessarily have had," he said.
"On tours, we are forced to grow up and mature quickly.
"I guarantee without football and especially the Pararoos, I wouldn't be where I am today.
"It's been one of the biggest constants in my life and my safe place - whatever is happening outside of football, I can rely on my teammates, which I am lucky enough to call my best friends.
"It's given me a purpose in life - I'm so indebted to the sport and I know I'll never be able to repay them.
"There's more than just what happens on the field - as enjoyable as strong performances are, this has been a vehicle to change kids' lives by showing it's okay to have cerebral palsy."
Our IFCPF 2019 World Cup has come to an end. 🏆— Pararoos (@Pararoos) July 22, 2019
Thank you to everyone back in Oz for supporting us.
And to all the young boys and girls with a disability. We hope we have shown you that you too can be UNDEFEATED.
This one's for you. 💛💚💛#gopararoos#undefeated#cpfootballpic.twitter.com/uKMEXNruBI
During his 70 national caps, Atkins has represented Australia at three IFCPF World Cups (Netherlands, England and Spain) - scoring on eight different occasions.
But few know that he nearly stepped away from the sport prior to this year's World Cup.
"I'd been a bit lazy, put on a bit of weight and at a session with the younger 15 and 16-year-olds in the squad, they were running rings around me," he said.
"I'd always thought I was on a higher level than them, so it was a shock to the system - so I developed a chip on my shoulder from then and never looked back."
Following this, Atkins changed his diet, dropped more than 10 kilograms and refocused on all the important things in his life; football, work and his girlfriend.
It was during this time he began to appreciate once again how big of an honour it was to pull on the green and gold for his country - none of which would have been possible without his greater asset, CP.
"I've spoken to a number of my teammates, even the ones with more severe forms of CP than me and we don't see cerebral palsy as a bad thing," he said.
"I consider it my greatest attribute and biggest asset in life - I wouldn't want my life any other way, as it's allowed me to travel the world playing the sport I love.
"It's the best thing that's ever happened to be, which I would never have said earlier in life."
Looking ahead, Atkins, who's side will play a historic Test against Canada on Saturday, would love to captain the side and join an elite group of players who have played 100 times for the Pararoos.
"Both reaching the 100-game milestone and captaining are goals of mine - ones that never would have thought possible 10 years ago," he said.
"The reason I've gotten this far is by my life motto; effort equals success.
"Growing up I thought talent led to success, but after more than a decade with the Pararoos, I've realised the more effort I put into my training and preparation, the more success I've had on the field.
"It's something I've tried to pass on to my younger teammates and is a message for all up and coming athletes, in whatever sport they choose."