JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Actor and motivational speaker J.R. Martinez visited Brooks Rehabilitation Center in Jacksonville Saturday afternoon.
Many soap opera fans may recognize Martinez from his work on "All My Children," or as the winner of Season 13 of "Dancing with the Stars." But fans might not know about is his struggle to survive.
"All of us in this room have experienced life changing on us, like that," Martinez said to the hundreds that came to Brooks to hear him speak.
In 2003, 19-year-old Martinez was on a mission serving in Iraq when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb. Three others were thrown from the vehicle. Martinez was trapped.
"I was completely conscious and I could actually, not only feel the fire coming over my body, but I could see my hands changing," Martinez said.
Two sergeants pulled him out, but not before severe burns covered more than 34 percent of his body.
"Anger, depression," Martinez described how he felt. "I was a victim."
He suffered years of painful recovery, surgeries, and skin grafts.
"We think of grieving as when you lose a mother, father, brother, sister, or a best friend but grieving is also when you lose a part of yourself."
That's something those recovering at Brooks, like Jaguar Richard Collier who came out to hear Martinez's story, can relate to.
Martinez says his goal is to diss the "dis" in disability, and motivate survivors to focus on their abilities.
"As easy as it is for me to say this is my destiny, I think it also has to do a lot with the choices that I made and I decisions that I made," he said. "The choice to say, you know, that I can help other people."
If there is any to take a way from his story, he hopes it's this... "You can create your destiny by the choices that you make. You can't control what's happening to you but you can control where you go from there."
But most of all, he hopes you're never afraid to dance.
"When it comes to dancing, we have a tendency to think about how funny we're going to look or we're not trained or whatever the case may be versus just having fun, feeling the music and letting your body move the way that it moves."
First Coast News