J.R. Martinez

Hero, Actor, Winner of Dancing with the Stars

Long before J.R. Martinez won legions of fans as the winner of Dancing With the Stars, he was inspiring audiences of all kinds with his remarkable story.

Born Jose Rene Martinez to a single mother from El Salvador, his dream was to become a professional football player. His plans derailed by a sports injury, he decided to enlist in the Army, where he was assigned to the Infantry Regimen of the 101st Airborne Division. J.R. saw it as a way to give back to a country that that already given so much to him and his family.

In March 2003, J.R. was deployed to Iraq. Less than a month later, the Humvee he was driving hit a land mine. Three other soldiers were ejected from the burning vehicle, but J.R. was trapped inside.

Suffering smoke inhalation and severe burns to 34% of his body, J.R. spent the next 34 months in recovery, undergoing 33 different surgeries, including skin grafts and cosmetic surgery.

During his time in recovery, a nurse asked him to speak to another burn patient, who had just seen his body for the first time and had become withdrawn. After his visit from J.R., the patient opened the curtain letting light into his room and his heart. J.R. decided to use his experience to help others, visiting with several of the patients in the hospital, sharing his story and listening to theirs.

J.R. started to get noticed by the national media as he began speaking at events all over the country. His message of resilience and optimism inspired a wide variety of organizations, from corporations to veterans groups and schools. In 2008, J.R. joined the cast of ABC’s Emmy Award-winning daytime drama All My Children as combat veteran Brot Monroe. The show incorporated portions of Martinez’s real life into its fictional storylines.

In 2011, when he won season 13 of Dancing With the Stars , he gained even more fans. His dance moves combined with his powerful story garnered even more notice, including the cover of PEOPLE magazine and numerous honors and recognition by groups nationwide. His book FULL of HEART My Story of Survival, Strength and Spirit, will be published in October 2012.

J.R. remains devoted to inspiring people all over the country who are facing their own challenges. And while J.R.’s experience was certainly difficult, he credits it for the life he is living today.

By reaching out to help someone else, he discovered a gift he had within himself.

According to J.R.: “The more heroes we have, the better off our world will be. All of us can have an unimaginable effect on one person with the simple concept of making him or her feel cared for, appreciated and that they matter. Most important, you will learn far more than you ever expected, and that is what’s in it for you.”