U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. finds inspiration in past speeches for Pat Tillman Award prep

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro earned a Purple Heart for bravery while serving in Afghanistan, where he was severely injured after his Humvee exploded in 2005.

The blast severed most of his fingers and left him in a coma for nearly three months, with burns covering the majority of his body. In spite of these injuries, Del Toro has demonstrated a remarkable will and determination to overcome challenges in his life.

He owns a gold medal and set several world records competing in track and field during the 2016 Invictus Games, where he gave an emotional speech during the Opening Ceremonies.

Still, Del Toro admits that he is a little nervous about the prospect of receiving The Pat Tillman Award for Service at The 25th ESPYS (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC). He tells Front Row that he’s been studying great ESPYS speeches from past years to help inspire the words he will deliver to the Microsoft Theatre audience in Los Angeles and to the millions of viewers watching the telecast around the world.

What was your reaction to learning that you would receive the Pat Tillman Award?
I really thought they were messing with me, but when I realized it wasn’t a joke I was completely stunned and speechless.

What do you know about the previous Tillman Award recipients and are there qualities you have in common with them?
I actually know last year’s winner Ellie [U.S. Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks]. We have been good friends for a long time. We see each other as brother and sister. One quality that we both have in common is we don’t accept limitations. We fight to prove them wrong and then we share what we have learned with other disabled service members or civilians that may need help.

How have you prepared for your ESPYS speech?
I’ve been trying to get a clue on what my speech will be about. I’ve been watching previous ESPYS speeches on YouTube, but I’ve never been this nervous thinking of what I will say. There are a couple of speeches that I connect with, from President [John F.] Kennedy’s “Don’t ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” to Jimmy Valvano’s “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up” to Stuart Scott’s “So live. And fight like hell,” and Ultimate Warrior’s “Every man’s heart one day beats it’s final beat.”

Jennifer Cingari Christie contributed to this post.

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