Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro, a tactical air control party airman who miraculously returned to service after a roadside bomb in Afghanistan left him with severe burns, will receive the Pat Tillman Award for Service, ESPN announced Wednesday.
Del Toro will receive the award from former Daily Show host Jon Stewart at the 25th ESPYS award show on July 12, which will be televised on ABC. The Pat Tillman Foundation established the award in 2014 to commemorate the football player who left the NFL to become an Army Ranger after the Sept. 11 attacks.
When his Humvee hit a bomb in 2005, Del Toro suffered third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body and lost most of his fingers. He was given a 15 percent chance of survival, was in a coma for nearly three months, and when he woke up, was told he might never walk or breathe without a respirator again, and wouldn't be able to re-enlist.
But Del Toro went on to undergo more than 100 surgeries, and in 2010 became the first airman to re-enlist after becoming eligible for a medical retirement with a 100 percent disability rating. He went on to serve as a TACP instructor for five years, and also became a paralympian athlete, setting world records in shot put, discus and javelin, and winning a gold medal at the Invictus Games.
Del Toro was also the first disabled airman to be selected for the World Class Athlete Program in Colorado Springs, and is training for the 2017 Warrior Games, which kick off Friday in Chicago.
And in February, Del Toro achieved yet another goal he set for himself and returned to the skies, parachuting for the first time since he was wounded.
His perseverance has inspired countless people, and last year, the Air Force retroactively promoted Del Toro to master sergeant
"I'm humbled for even being considered for this prestigious award named after Pat Tillman, a man I admire, but to actually receive this honor is unbelievable," Del Toro said in the release. "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."
Previous recipients of the award, which, according to the Pat Tillman Foundation, honors an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes Tillman's legacy, include Sgt. Elizabeth Marks, an Invictus Games champion who won a gold medal in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, and Danielle Green, a standout basketball player and soldier who lost her left arm in a rocket-propelled grenade explosion while deployed in 2004 to Iraq.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.