The ESPY awards show audience was in tears and awe as those in attendance and watching on TV learned about Master Sergeant Israel Del Toro, a U.S. military hero who was severely injured by a roadside bomb in 2005 while serving as a special ops paratrooper with the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan.
Del Toro, who was the recipient of the Pat Tillman Award for Courage at the 25th annual award ceremony on Wednesday night, delivered an inspirational message about perseverance after a video montage explained the harrowing details of his story.
“People talk about life flashing in front of them, and when I did get hit, images came in my head,” Del Toro said in the clip.
In the moments after the Dec. 4, 2005, blast, which left him with third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body, the soldier thought of what he would miss if he died: teaching his son to play baseball, getting married in the church and living his life with his family.
“I’m going to die here,” he thought, though he quickly made the decision not to give up. “I fought from day one.”
In the end, he has survived and thrived. After pushing hard for his recovery, Del Toro also got back to training and, in February 2010, became the “first 100 percent disabled airman ever to re-enlist in the Air Force,” according to the ESPY clip. He how serves as an Air Force training instructor.
Watch Del Toro’s incredible story below:
The military hero also shared additional details of his story after he got up to accept his award, describing how his biggest fear after seeing his face for the first time following the blast was that his young son would be scared of him.
“When I first saw my face … at that moment all I thought was that my son was going to be afraid of me, just like looking at me,” he said. “I came home, my son comes running up to me and all the sudden stops … but he just tilts his head to the side and … gives the most amazing hug I ever felt in my life.”
Del Toro continued, “All my son wanted was his dad.”
Watch his acceptance speech below:
In the end, Del Toro pledged to be strong and to persevere — something he’s already proven he’s quite good at.
“I will stay strong for the ones who cannot,” he said. “I will fight for the ones who cannot fight.”
(H/T: The Courage)