After his Humvee ran over a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2005, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro was given a 15 percent chance of living. Suffering burns over most of his body and in a coma for three months, he was later told he’d never breathe or walk on his own again.
That wasn’t good enough for Del Toro, who not only does both on his own, but now competes in adaptive sports, has won gold medals in both the Invictus Games and Warrior Games, and has set world records in the shotput, discus and javelin.
Del Toro also hasn’t left the Air Force, serving as the first 100 percent combat-disabled technician to re-enlist. And on Wednesday, Del Toro was presented with the Pat Tillman Award for Service during the ESPY Awards.
"I am honored and humbled to receive this award,” Del Toro said during the ceremony. "Receiving this award is still strange for me. I don't see myself as someone special. I just did what any other servicemember would do: make things better for the guys that follow them and take care of teammates.”
Former talk show host Jon Stewart presented Del Toro with the award. “He found a way not just to survive against the odds, but to thrive,” Stewart said. “He is a study in strength, tenacity, bravery and service." Stewart also called Del Toro “a solider who has gone through pain and struggling you would not believe just to survive and be here tonight."
The Pat Tillman Award is named for the former NFL player who walked away from a lucrative contract to join the U.S. military after 9/11. Tillman served in the U.S. Army Rangers and was killed in Afghanistan from friendly fire.
Watch Del Toro’s acceptance speech here.