RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas- –
In December 2005, Tech. Sgt. Israel Del Toro Jr. lay in a hospital bed at Brooks Army Medical Center after an improvised explosive device left 80 percent of his body covered in third degree burns.
He was missing fingers from both hands and had severe inhalation burns when doctors told his wife, Carmen, three times that they didn't expect him live. But she knew better.
"Every time they told me he wouldn't make it, I would say, 'Yes, he can!'" Carmen Del Toro remembered. "I know him. I knew he could pull through; he is so strong."
And pull through he did.
Sergeant Del Toro, 342nd Training Squadron Tactical Air Control Party, or TACP, instructor and recruiter defied the doctors' expectations and has not only returned to his career field, but will be competing in the Warrior Games to be held May 10 through 14 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"It is pretty cool to be participating in the games," he said. "I hope I do good! I'm going to go out there and give it as much as I can. I will keep pushing -- you know -- even if I am last, I will finish. I always finish. It doesn't matter if I am last, first, second or third."
An estimated 200 athletes from the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard who have been injured, wounded or are ill will be competing at the inaugural Warrior Games. The games have been a joint effort between the Department of Defense and the U.S. Olympic Committee and are part of an effort to inspire recovery, capitalize on physical fitness, and promote new opportunities for growth and achievement, according to the U.S. Olympic Committee Web site.
"Leadership from the DoD and Ride to Recovery approached the U.S. Olympic Committee about creating a competition due to the competitive nature of our members of the armed forces," said Charlie Huebner, U.S. Olympic Committee, chief of paralympics. "Daily, we see the impact of physical activity on people who become physically disabled. Something as simple as returning to the norm, such as skiing with your friends or riding your bike with your family, provides a significant physical and emotional transition in the rehabilitation process."
Huebener said the Warrior Games are an extension of that emphasis on living an active lifestyle and competing, whether that competition is in sports or in life. Events at the games will include shooting, swimming, archery, sitting volleyball, cycling, track, wheelchair basketball, discus and shot put. There will also be an Ultimate Warrior competition, which Sergeant Del Toro is looking forward to competing in.
"From my understanding, the Ultimate Warrior includes biking ten miles, a 1,500 meter run, a rifle shooting event, shot put and a 50-meter swim," Sergeant Del Toro said. "I am good with everything, but I am not sure about the swim. I am going to get with a swim coach this week since I haven't swum since I was injured. I don't know how I'll do, but you know -- it's only a lap there and back freestyle. I am going to see how I do."
Sergeant Del Toro will be well prepared for the event seeing that he has been running in 5Ks, and biking has been a major part of his rehabilitation. But no matter how he places in any of the events he competes in, his positive attitude is more important than any trophy.
"When I speak to other Airmen I tell them, if you already have it in your head you aren't going to make it before you try, you have already quit," Sergeant Del Toro said. "I never had that mentality. I wanted to get out of the hospital and see my little boy. I wanted to give him an example like my dad did for me. No matter what, take care of your family, and never quit.
"I never wanted my son to grow up and wonder, 'Why is dad sitting in a chair, staring out a window hating life?' I am not teaching my son anything doing that. I want him to be able to see that his dad got blown up, but he is still doing all this stuff, he is not quitting. I want to show him that no matter what obstacles are in front of you, you are not going to give-up; you are going to pull forward."