Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro recalls ESPY win, shares message of perseverance

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PEYTON, Colo. — Master Sergeant Israel Del Toro has become a local celebrity after receiving the 2017 Pat Tillman Award for Service at ESPN’s ESPY Awards earlier this month.

The course of Del Toro’s life changed forever on the ground in Afghanistan. He and his men were struck by an IED and Del Toro, who goes by “DT,” suffered third-degree burns on 80 percent of his body and was given just a 15 percent chance to live.

Now 12 years later, he’s a pillar of inspiration not only for the military community but the sports community as well.

“[Doctors told me] You may not walk again, you’re going to be on a respirator for the rest of your life, you’re military career is pretty much over,” said Del Toro.

However, the doctors were wrong. Two months after hearing his fate, DT walked out of the hospital with a new mission in mind.

“Adaptive sports helped me,” he said. “Not only me and my family, helped me push ahead, helped me keep going, helped me realize you know what, I can still do sports. It may not be the same ones but I can still enjoy doing athletic activities.”

So while competing at this year’s Warrior Games, DT got the call that he’d been selected as the winner of the Pat Tillman Award for Service – an honor that left him speechless.

“Because I didn’t see myself that I did anything special,” he said. “I just did what any other guy would do, just take care of his team.”

A vow to stay strong for those injured in service, disabled or those simply having a bad day, DT’s message for those then and now remains committed to fighting the good fight.

“I will stay strong for the ones that cannot, I will fight for the ones that cannot fight, i will never f***king quit on you,” Del Toro said during his acceptance speech.

“It was just an amazing feeling having these athletes making me feel like I’m part of them and talking to me like a normal guy,” he said.

An ESPY Award winner, Air Force parachutist, Warrior Game gold medalist, father, husband and mentor to so many — DT says he doesn’t think about the “what ifs” and how different his life might’ve been.

“I never would have gone through what I went through,” he said. “[To] Be speaking to people in large forums or receiving an ESPY. I never would have thought that, but I wouldn’t change anything I did.”

To close his acceptance speech, Del Toro chose his words poignantly.

“Thank you for letting this guy who just had a bad day at work feel like someone special tonight.”

Del Toro says writing a book about his life story and accomplishments is a definite possibility in the future. In the meantime, he says he still has plenty of adventures to go on and things to accomplish.

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