“All I thought was that my son was going to be afraid of me.”
Air Force Master Sargeant Israel Del Toro was the recipient of the Pat Tillman Award for Service at this year’s ESPYs, and both his personal story and acceptance speech were some of the highlights of the night.
In 2005, while Del Toro was serving in Afghanistan, he was gravely injured when his Humvee rolled over an IED. The bomb exploded, leaving Del Toro with third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body. After going into a coma, Del Toro was given a 15 percent chance of survival. He eventually emerged from the coma but was told he wouldn’t be able to walk or breathe without the help of a respirator.
Del Toro told ABC News that he took the news as a challenge: “Pretty much, I kind of felt they could go to hell.” Less than three months after his diagnosis, Del Toro walked out of the hospital and began his recovery. By 2010, Del Toro became the first 100 percent combat-disabled veteran to re-enlist in the Air Force, where he now works as an instructor and trainer.
During physical therapy, Del Toro discovered adaptive sports, and began competing in events such as the Invictus Games, which allow armed service personnel who are injured, sick, or wounded to compete in athletics. At the 2016 Invictus Games, Del Toro won a gold medal in shot put and silver medal in powerlifting.
Former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart introduced Del Toro to everyone at the ESPYs, describing him as “humble, kind and funny as hell.” Stewart added: “He inspires not just by his story, but by the humility, humor and deep love of country and family that defines him.”
During his acceptance speech, Del Toro thanked everyone who helped him recover, including his physical therapist, his wife and his son. He revealed that one of his biggest worries was that his son, upon seeing the scars on his body, would be afraid of him. But he soon realized that his son just wanted his father to be home.
Watch the official ESPN clip of Del Toro’s speech: