Del Toro will receive the award for his perseverance and achievement both in military service and in his athletic endeavors.
In 2005, Del Toro was serving in Afghanistan when his Humvee rolled over a buried pressure-plate mine and exploded. He was left with more than 80 percent of his body covered in burns and lost a majority of his fingers; doctors gave him a 15 percent chance of survival. After Del Toro awoke from a three-monthlong coma, doctors told him that he may never walk or breathe normally again. Despite the severity of his injuries, Del Toro made an astounding recovery and promised himself that he would one day re-enlist and return to the military.
Less than a year after the explosion, Del Toro beat his prognosis and was able to walk and breathe on his own again. Throughout his rehabilitation, the veteran participated in a variety of adaptive sports as part of his therapy and went on to setting multiple world records, in shotput, discus and javelin, and in 2016 he won a gold medal at the Invictus Games, a paralympic-style sport competition created by Prince Harry for wounded, injured or sick servicemen and women.
Today, Del Toro still serves in the military as the first 100 percent combat-disabled Air Force technician to re-enlist and was even promoted to master sergeant last year. Although he most likely will not be able to deploy ever again, Del Toro works as a joint terminal attack controller instructor, training incoming recruits to do the job he once held himself. The honoree is also a member of the World Class Athlete program and is currently training for the 2017 Warrior Games in Chicago.
In 2014, the ESPYs created the award in honor of Pat Tillman, a former NFL player who left his football career to enlist in the military following the Sept. 11 attacks and was later killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire.
“When I heard that Pat Tillman gave up a career in the NFL to serve his country after the 9/11 attacks, it gave me so much pride to call him a brother in arms,” Del Toro said. “He truly is a shining example of Service Before Self.”
Said Marie Tillman, chair and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation: “As an Airman and athlete, Israel embodies the same spirit of service, leading by example and motivating those around him to beat the odds. He has refused to let his disabilities conquer his competitive spirit or hinder his determination to give back. In Pat’s name, we’re honored to present the Tillman Award to Israel for his service and leadership as a voice for this generation of veterans.”
The 25th annual ESPY Awards will air July 12 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. Peyton Manning will host.