In 2005, US. Air Force Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro, Jr. was severely injured when his Humvee hit an IED in Afghanistan. He lost most of his fingers and suffered third degree burns on more than 80% of his body.  He spent nearly three months in a coma. Doctors told Del Toro that he had a 15 percent chance of survival and that he’d likely never walk or breathe on his own again.  Del Toro used sports as part of his rehabilitation and overcame those odds, becoming the first 100 percent combat disabled Air Force technician to re-enlist in the military.

For Del Toro, adaptive sports allowed him to enjoy life again. “Adaptive sports really gets you out, gets you feeling like your old self,” he said.  “When I am competing, it is just me and my sport out there.”  Del Toro, or DT as he is affectionately called, has participated for a number of years in the Endeavor Games, organized by the UCO Center of Adaptive Sports, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA. He has also been a part of other competitions organized by DSUSA chapters, including the Desert Challenge Games (hosted by Arizona Disabled Sports) and the Great Lakes Regional Games (put on by the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association). “Those games get you ready for the big time, like the Nationals or the Invictus Games. But more importantly they just get you moving,” Del Toro said.

At the beginning of his competitive pursuits, one of the events that stood out for DT was the Valor Games. Individuals were encouraging him to try powerlifting, hinting to the fact that he is willing to try anything. So when he did bench press for the first time after his injury, it was a little emotional. “I didn’t think I would ever be able to lift free weights again.”

Twice, Del Toro has taken part in the Invictus Games, a competition founded by Prince Harry for wounded service members. In 2014, he won a silver medal in powerlifting, and in 2016, he captured gold in the shot put. Sixty percent of the participants in the 2016 Invictus Games, including Del Toro, were part of DSUSA’s Warfighter Sports program.

In 2017, he participated in the Warrior Games, which was hosted in his hometown of Chicago. Among the sports he played in were shotput, discus, cycling, relay, shooting, and sitting volleyball. By the end, he had won three golds, one silver, and a bronze. Next, Del Toro will be gearing up to train for the 2020 Paralympics.

Nowadays, DT is also focusing on his Air Force career, particularly getting back into jump operations. He is assigned to the Air Force’s Wings of Blue Parachute Team. By the way, Del Toro also happened to mark his 20th year in the service back in June.

At the 25th Annual ESPY Awards held on July 12th, Del Toro was presented with the Pat Tillman Award for Service. Congratulations to Sgt. Del Toro, who became the fourth recipient of this award created to honor an individual with a strong connection to sports and service. The award was established in 2014 to honor Pat Tillman, the former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger who died in combat in 2004. At the awards ceremony, in Los Angeles, Del Toro said “I don’t see myself as someone special. I just did what any other service member would do.” During his remarks, he also took the time to thank the countless nurses, therapists and others that were there for him in his darkest hour. He also thanked those in the audience for allowing “someone who just had a bad day at work feel special.”

Photo Credit: DOD/EJ Hersom