If there is anyone who is a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit, it’s military veteran J.R. Martinez. In 2003, the Georgia resident was serving in Iraq in the Army’s 101st Airborne unit when a Humvee he was driving struck a mine. Burned over 30 percent of his body, including his face, he spent 34 months in the hospital and had 30 surgeries to repair the damage. Just 20 years old at the time, Martinez could have succumbed to the overwhelming physical injuries as well as the damage to his psyche. Instead, he became a symbol of success for the military and anyone who’s been through a horrific experience. He landed roles on “All My Children” and “Army Wives” and was the Season 13 winner of “Dancing With the Stars.”
His miraculous recovery is detailed in his new book “Full of Heart.” In it, Martinez describes the devastation his injuries caused him and his family and the strength, both mental and physical it took to overcome them. Now an advocate for burn victims and a motivational speaker, Martinez hopes his book inspires someone else in a challenging situation.
“It teaches people we can all overcome,” Martinez told NBC Latino. “Change is scary, and I think my story allows you to understand — you can make it work. We all have the power to make it work. We can find the way to do great things.”
One of the great things Martinez was going to do was be the last to start the New York City marathon. He was starting last because Timex was going to donate $1 to everyone who passed him at the start. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy had other plans and the New York Marathon will almost certainly be postponed given the damage the storm did in New York City. But Martinez is used to dealing with adverse circumstances and will likely be there whenever the race is rescheduled.
Martinez and his fiancée Diana Gonzales-Jones had a baby girl, Lauryn Annabelle, on May 2. He shares much of his personal journey through the book, something that he thought was important to connect with his many fans and help others see that they can overcome anything.
“A lot of times people have been living their lives doing everything right, thinking everything's perfect, then some trauma happens,” Martinez told Tfponline.com. “Because we get so caught up in thinking everything is great, we focus only on 'Why me?' We are so focused on why that we eliminate the possibilities. Create something better from that trauma, that's what I try to relate to people. Accept it happened, and there is a reason it happened. Take it and make something else from it.”
“Full of Heart” is in stores and available for download now. Read an excerpt here.