Tonight, US Air Force Sergeant Israel Del Toro will receive the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 25th ESPYS.
Del Toro will be accompanied this evening by his wife, Carmen, and his son, who he says inspired him to persevere in his darkest hour.
Here’s what you need to know about Del Toro:
1. He Was Injured in Afghanistan in 2005 When His Humvee Rolled Over a Bomb
In 2005, Del Toro’s Humvee rolled over a pressure-plate mine and exploded. Speaking to ABC five years after the incident, Del Toro explained that he was covered head to toe in flames upon escaping the truck. He says he thought to himself, “I’m going to die here. I’m never going to see my wife and son again.”
Del Toro lost many of his fingers, and 80% of his face and body were covered in third-degree burns. Doctors gave him a 15% chance of survival.
2. He Was Told That He’d Likely Never Be Able to Walk Again After Waking up From a Three Month Coma
After the accident, Del Toro was in a coma for three months. He was told he’d likely never be able to walk again or breathe without the help of a respirator.
Despite the odds being stacked against him, he persevered and was able to make an astounding recovery. Del Toro underwent more than 100 surgeries, and used sports as a key part of his rehabilitation.
In May 2006, less than a year after the accident, Del Toro was walking and breathing on his own. That same year, he was awarded the Purple Heart for his bravery.
3. He Won a Gold Medal at the Invictus Games in 2016
The Invictus Games are a multi-sport event in which wounded, injured, or sick servicemen and women take part. In 2016, nearly 500 athletes from 14 different countries took part in the Games, which typically run over a course of four days. In 2014, Del Toro took home the silver medal in powerlifting, and in 2016, he won the gold in the shot put.
At the opening ceremony for the 2016 Invictus Games, George W. Bush paid tribute to Del Toro and his recovery.
4. He Will Receive the Pat Tillman Award From Jon Stewart
Del Toro will receive tonight’s Pat Tillman Award from former Daily Show host Jon Stewart. In a recent statement, the Hollywood Reporter credits Stewart as saying, “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. He truly is a shining example of Service Before Self.”
Said Marie Tillman, the chair and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation, also said in a statement, “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.”
5. He Re-Enlisted in the Military
Today, Del Toro is the first 100 percent combat-disabled Air Force technician to re-enlist. He was even promoted to master sergeant last year. He currently works as a terminal attack controller instructor.
Speaking to ABC in 2010, Del Toro explained that it was very difficult convincing the Air Force to let him re-enlist. “I had to fight them. I had a lot of people behind me, supporting me,” Del Toro said. “From day one, everyone knew I wanted to stay in. I never changed my mind.”
This past February, he reached a personal goal after parachuting for the first time since the accident.