Wounded Airman To Receive ESPY Award Wednesday Night

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Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro, United States Air Force, will be presented with the Pat Tillman Award for Service on June 12 at the 2017 ESPY Awards. The award, named after NFL football player Pat Tillman, who gave up his sports career to become an Army Ranger, “honors an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes Pat’s legacy.” That is certainly something that Del Toro has lived up to.

While serving in Afghanistan in 2005, Israel Del Toro Jr. was severely injured by an IED explosion. He lost most of his fingers and suffered third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body. At the time, he was told that he only had a 15 percent chance of living. If he did survive, doctors said he may never be able to walk or even breathe unassisted again. He proved them all completely wrong.

Del Toro not only survived his injuries, a three month coma, and 100 surgeries, but he also fought and trained to restore his broken body. Despite the fact that he was eligible for medical retirement from the Air Force, Del Toro actually re-enlisted in 2010. He is the first Airman ever to re-enlist after receiving a 100 percent disability rating from the military. He trained to become an Air Force Instructor and eventually an athlete in the Department of Defense’s annual Warrior Games. He is a motivational speaker; a world record-setting Paralympic athlete in shot put, javelin, and discus; and a gold medalist at the Invictus Games.


Photo: U.S. Air Force -- Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro Jr. trains for the Warrior Games.

Photo: U.S. Air Force — Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro Jr. trains for the Warrior Games.

“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 press release. “When I heard that Pat Tillman gave up a career in the NFL to serve his country after the 9/11 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.”

The Pat Tillman Award for Service was created in 2014 and is given out every year during ESPN’s award ceremony, the ESPYS. Previous recipients of the award are Marine Corps veteran Josh Sweeney (2014), Army veteran Danielle Green (2015), and Sgt. Elizabeth Marks of the U.S. Army (2016). Presenting the award to him live on television Tuesday night will be former television host Jon Stewart.


Photo: U.S. Air Force -- Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro Jr. competing in the archery competition at the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games.

Photo: U.S. Air Force — Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro Jr. competing in the archery competition at the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games.

Sports became part of Del Toro’s rehabilitation after his injuries, using different sports to build up his body (not to mention breath and walk). He has competed in events like shot put, discus, and javelin, as well as bicycling with a modified recumbent bicycle, running, volleyball, and wheelchair basketball. He also competes in archery, using a bite trigger to draw and shoot.

Chair and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation Marie Tillman said, “As an Airman and athlete, Israel embodies the same spirit of service, leading by example and motivating those around him to beat the odds. He has refused to let his disabilities conquer his competitive spirit or hinder his determination to give back. In Pat’s name, we’re honored to present the Tillman Award to Israel for his service and leadership as a voice for this generation of veterans.”

The 25th Annual ESPYS will air on ABC on Tuesday, June 12 at 8 p.m. EST.

Watch Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro speak about his motivation in the amazing video below!

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Jacob H. is an award-winning journalist and photojournalist who currently resides is West Michigan with his wife. In his spare time, Jacob enjoys writing, photography, mountain climbing, and camping.