Wounded vet to gold medal shot-putter: meet Israel Del Toro

Israel Del Toro during shot-put training at the Air Force Academy./ Taylor Bishop -- FOX21 News
Israel Del Toro during shot-put training at the Air Force Academy./ Taylor Bishop -- FOX21 News

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Wounded vet to gold medal shot-putter, he’s beating the odds and breaking records. One man is turning tragedy into strength.

Eleven years ago, Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro was fighting in Afghanistan when an IED blasted his Humvee.

“When I got out of the truck I was on fire from head to toe but I knew that creek was behind me so I tried to run to it but the flames overtook me and I collapsed,” Del Toro said.

Del Toro lost his dad when he was 12, and the last thing his father said to him was to always take care of his family.

“I’m lying there thinking that I’m going to die and that I broke my promise to my son and my family that I would always come back and I wouldn’t let my son grow up without his dad,” said Del Toro.

Then one of his teammates helped him up and they jumped in the creek.

“It was like when you put a hot pan in cold water, that sizzle sound, but instead of a pan it was my body,” he said.

He had suffered third degree burns on 80 percent of his body, but he still didn’t give up.

“They wanted to carry me to the aircraft and I was like, ‘Oh hell no. I walked into this fight, I want to walk out,'” said Del Toro.

That was December 4, 2005, and it was one of the last things he remembers before waking up in March 2006. Del Toro almost died three times, and doctors had given him a slim chance to live. If he did, they said he may not walk again and his military career was over.

“I’d tell them, ‘You can go to hell’ pretty much. Well, I used more colorful words, but let’s just say I told them to go to hell,” Del Toro said.

He said seeing himself in the mirror for the first time was his darkest hour, but the fear of what his 3-year-old son would see broke his heart even more.

“‘He’s going to be terrified of me. He’s not going to want to hold me. He’s going to run away.’ But he just tilted his head and he says, ‘Papi?’ and I was like ‘Yeah buddy’ and he comes up and gives me the most amazing hug I’ve ever had,” said Del Toro.

But that was just the beginning. In 2010 he became the first 100 percent disabled airman to ever reenlist in the Air Force.

During his recovery, he tried out some different sports and started to excel in track and field, finding his passion for throwing shot and disc.

“Most people will try and grip the shot-put and throw it like a baseball, and because I don’t have that ability of the fingers, I just launch it,” Del Toro said.

Last January he was accepted as the first para-world class athlete to try and make it to the Paralympics, and now he’s training to qualify for Rio de Janeiro.

“Never f-ing quit, you know, ‘NFQ’, that’s my thing that I tell people, and that’s a very powerful thing. Don’t ever quit. It’s like stay strong, finish strong,” he said.

Del Toro was a speaker and competed in the Invictus Games in Orlando earlier this month among the likes of George W. Bush and Prince Harry. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and son.

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