ESPY Awards honor Israel Del Toro with Pat Tillman Award for Service
Posted July 14
On the heels of receiving the Pat Tillman Award for Service, US Air Force Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro joined CNN's Jake Tapper on Friday afternoon to discuss the honor.
Given a standing ovation, Del Toro accepted the award for his dedication to service and sports at Wednesday evening's 25th Annual ESPY Awards.
The Pat Tillman Award was named after the football player who gave up his NFL career after 9/11 to serve his country, a decision Del Toro described as "the true meaning of "service before self." Tillman, who gave up a lucrative contract with the Arizona Cardinals, was a member of the Army's elite Rangers force when he was killed in Afghanistan in 2004.
In 2005, Del Toro survived severe injuries after his Humvee rolled over a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. More than 80% of his body was covered in third degree burns and doctors gave him a very slim chance of living.
"Like I said in my speech, I don't see myself as anyone special," Del Toro told Tapper. "I was just doing my job."
After recovering in the hospital, his first thought was whether or not his young son would be afraid of him because of his facial injruies. Later, Del Toro worried whether he would be able to play sports with his son.
"I can't really play baseball with my son like I wanted to," Del Toro said, adding that that was the hardest part of his injury.
"Guys who get wounded, most of us are athletic and we sometimes think we can't play sports anymore." Del Toro thought that, too, until he was introduced to a variety of sports such as sitting volleyball and air rifle precision shooting. The reintroduction of sports played a huge role in his recovery, he said.
"You start feeling like yourself again," he told Tapper.
In 2010, he became the first fully disabled airman to re-enlist in the Air Force, serving as an Air Force training instructor.
Serving as a mentor for many different airmen, Del Toro guides them by reminding them not to let the small things in life bother them. "As long as you stay positive and clear in your head, you can accomplish anything," he said. "You can overcome any obstacle, no matter how hard it may seem."