ORLANDO, Fla. (AFNS) — Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro is all about smiles and inspiring others as he competes at the Invictus Games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
Throughout the week, more than 500 wounded, ill and injured service members from 15 nations have been competing in 10 sporting events as they are cheered on by thousands of family members, friends and spectators.
Del Toro’s competition began with powerlifting.
“I knew I wasn’t going to win anything because I just got cleared for my shoulder about three weeks ago, so I wasn’t at my top peak,” he said. “Mostly, I did it so other people could see that this guy with no fingers and part hands is able to lift 200 and something pounds of weight and still be out there; that was my biggest goal.”
Del Toro said he had never weight lifted before as a sport before his injury, just in conjunction with playing baseball, football and soccer in high school and college, and while in the Air Force.
“There could be a guy out there thinking he can’t do this, because I was like that. I thought I would never be able to get under another bar and bench press until the coach got me under there,” he said. “If I’m able to do that for somebody else like they did for me, then I did my job.”
Del Toro, a tactical air control party member, was injured by an improvised explosive device detonation during a deployment to Afghanistan. His body took most of the blast, and nearly 80 percent of his body was burned. Though he is disabled, he is still able to serve in the Air Force.
“I am missing some of my muscles so it’s a little harder in training but I just keep at it, and I just keep going to try and get as strong as I can,” he said. “Some of the items I use to adapt can’t hold as much weight so that must be a good thing, if I’m able to break my bands. I must be doing something good.”
He said he went from barely being able to lift any weight to lifting 215 pounds.
“Sometimes I look back at some of the pictures of when I first got hurt, of when I couldn’t do anything, couldn’t even move my arms, to where I’m at now, competing at cycling, powerlifting, rowing and owning records. It’s just amazing to see how far I’ve come,” he said with a big grin.
Del Toro said his strongest sport is field, and it was. He earned a gold medal in the men’s shot put in his disability category.
“It was great to win a medal but the biggest thing was just to come out here and show the world that we’re still out here pushing and enjoying life and playing sports,” he said.
In cycling, Del Toro placed fifth in the men’s recumbent criterium and seventh in the men’s recumbent time trial in his disability category. He said he felt good about the races.
“I was pushing it pretty hard,” he said. “With the time trial, you just go as hard as you can until you’ve got to puke.”
Del Toro recommended adaptive sports to service members and veterans who may still be struggling with their disabilities.
“I’m still active so I still have that camaraderie with my teammates but a lot of these guys are out so they’re able to use sports and get together,” he said. “It’s the closest they’ll come back to being in the military and have that camaraderie.”
Del Toro said it can also be very calming. He goes out for a ride or shoots an air pistol or air rifle.
“It’s very soothing. I can just focus on that target and hit it, get that perfect 10.9. It’s nice,” he said. “My son will come out with me and tell me, ‘Stay strong, finish strong.’”
Del Toro said in the end, it will be up to the service member or veteran to seek help but he encourages them to do it.
“Like the song says (at Invictus), you are the captain of your soul. You determine what you want to do in life. Don’t let the odds determine what you’re going to do. You do that. You create your own fate,” he said.