There will be many heartwarming moments at the 2017 ESPY Awards Wednesday night, and sure to top the list will be when Air Force Sgt. Israel Del Toro steps on stage to receive the Pat Tillman Award for Service.
Del Toro was serving in Afghanistan in 2005 when his Humvee rolled over a bomb. He was in a coma for three months, and with burns covering most of his body, he was given just a 15% chance to live. Upon waking up, he discovered he lost most of his fingers and looked unrecognizable even to his own 3-year-old son.
Doctors told him he likely wouldn’t walk again and he would have to live the rest of his life on a respirator. Doctors also told him he would probably have to remain in the hospital for a year-and-a-half.
However, less than a year after the explosion that nearly killed him, the Purple Heart recipient was walking and breathing on his own. He also vowed to return to active service one day.
In 2010, he became the first “100-percent combat disabled Air Force technician to re-enlist.”
Throughout his recovery, he has used sports to improve his physical and mental condition.
He competed in the first Invictus Games in 2014, where he lifted 215 pounds in the power lifting event. Then in 2016, he won a gold medal and set a world record in shot put.
“First, I’m humbled for even being considered for this prestigious award named after Pat Tillman, a man I admire, but to actually receive this honor is unbelievable,” Del Toro said in a statement. “When I heard that Pat Tillman gave up a career in the NFL to serve his country after the 911 attacks, it gave me so much pride to call him a brother in arms. He truly is a shining example of Service Before Self. To Mrs. Tillman and the Pat Tillman Foundation, I give you my pledge that I’ll always try to live up to the true meaning of the Pat Tillman Award for Service in everything I do, and to represent his spirit to the best of my ability.” (Pat Tillman Foundation)
Del Toro will be presented with the Pat Tillman Award for Service by television host Jon Stewart. The award honors former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who lost his life after he quit football to serve in the U.S. military following the September 11 attacks.
If you’d like to learn more about Del Toro, ESPN put together a piece on him with great commentary from his son and wife.
Thank you for serving, Sgt. Del Toro.
Here are some photos of this breakthrough athlete: