J.R. Martinez has faced more than his share of challenges. Serving in Iraq in 2003 with the U.S. Army, his Humvee hit a roadside bomb, ejecting the other three soldiers and trapping Martinez under the burning vehicle. He spent 34 months recovering from the accident, undergoing 33 surgeries in attempts to heal the burns on nearly half his body. In his early 20s at the time, Martinez decided to use his life-changing experience to improve the lives of others. He began visiting other burn patients, listening to their stories and sharing his experiences. He expanded his scope and speaks to groups around the country about the power of setting goals and positive attitudes, and it’s in this capacity that he’ll deliver the AANA Annual Meeting Keynote Address on Sunday, Aug. 11. In 2008, he answered an open-casting call for the daytime drama “All My Children,” landing a recurring three-year role that eventually earned him a spot on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Q: You had a tremendously long recovery process after your accident. What was best for you—focusing on short-term or long-term goals? How can that lesson be applied to everyday lives?
A: Short-term goals absolutely. Prior to my injury, I was a typical kid. [Now] I’m still re-learning how to feed myself, how to dress myself. Focusing on long-term goals, I probably would’ve been let down. My short-term goals were very simple—wake up every morning and have a positive attitude.
One of the biggest things is to have a goal, have a plan. Having that goal keeps you working towards something; it takes you to the next road. A lot of my story is I had goals. [They] kept me working towards something. It’s great to be ambitious, [but] sometimes it’s good to start on the smaller scale.
Q: If you had to pick one piece of advice that people always come away with after your talks, or one piece of advice that really helped you, what would it be?
A: Something that really helped me has been the ability to listen. Everything I’ve learned has been—in a lot of ways—because I’ve closed my mouth and just listened.
Q: What continues to inspire you today?
A: My mother, and continuing to grow to be the best I can be. Now I have a daughter, and she’s of course my motivation to try to leave a positive stamp on the world. I’m really hungry for life. I want to do everything. I’ve gotten a second chance at life, and I want to make the most of it.
Q: You’ve appeared on the daytime drama “All My Children,” won the 2011 season of “Dancing with the Stars,” and served as the grand marshal at the 2012 Tournament of Roses Parade, among many other professional accomplishments. What has been your favorite so far?
A: “Dancing with the Stars” was awesome. Personally speaking, being a father for the first time was the greatest thing to happen to me. But a close second would be “Dancing with the Stars.” It gave me the opportunity to show the world I’m so much more—my humor, my emotions. That experience was something I’ll forever be grateful for.
Q: After everything you’ve accomplished, what’s the next challenge you’re looking forward to?
A: Acting. Last year I wanted to focus on motivational speaking and writing my book. [Acting] was something I really fell in love with. But I’m looking into different things—even creating shows to put on TV. I have the whole entertainment bug.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I’d like to thank CRNAs and nurses in general. It’s the nurses, and their positive attitudes towards me when I was in a fragile stage of life, that really helped me through. As a profession, they don’t really hear that enough.
J.R. Martinez will be speaking at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 11, in the Grand Ballroom.