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J.R. Martinez is an Army Veteran, Burn Survivor, Actor, Motivational Speaker, New York Times Best-Selling Author and Dancing with the Stars season 13 winner.
Some people may see J.R. Martinez’s burn scars and think that he is defined by that single day in his life. But J.R.’s journey towards vulnerability and resilience began long before his time in the military and the twists and turns it’s taken since nearly defy imagination.
Listen to the latest episode of All About Change as J.R. describes his trajectory to Jay. He’s gone from recovering in a military burn unit to becoming a motivational speaker, actor, winner of Dancing with the Stars, and advocate for veterans and other charitable causes.
Better off had they just left me in the Humvee to die because what life am I truly going to have now? This is definitely not a life worth living. That’s the way I felt.
Hi, I am Jay Ruderman and welcome to All About Change, a podcast showcasing individuals who leverage the hardships that have been thrown at them to better other people’s lives.
This is all wrong.
I say, put mental health first, because if you don’t…
Yes, we can!
This generation of Americans has already had enough.
I stand before you, not as an expert, but as a concerned citizen.
Yes we can!
Yes we can!
J.R. Martinez doesn’t like to think of himself as exceptional.
Sometimes I wake up and I’m stressed and I’m overwhelmed and I’m like, “I got to do this, this, this, that,” whatever it may be…
In spite of all of his accomplishments and will only get to some of them in our conversation, he still maintains that he’s just a regular guy. But to me, this is what makes him all the more impressive. In the face of hardship, trauma and adversity J.R. makes space for his humanity.
I believe in vulnerability and I believe in the sense of being completely transparent, and I’m not ashamed to showcase any of that.
After answering the call and enrolling to serve, J.R. was severely wounded in Iraq. Burned over 40% of his body, he had to spend years in the hospital. After struggling to move on and find new meaning in life, J.R. stumbled upon a new passion and a new purpose.
I can continue to serve in a very different way that I was accustomed to in the military. I can do it now through this, through talking and just putting myself in spaces and listening.
That realization opened Doors J.R. had never thought of and took him down a path no one could have predicted.
So J.R., first of all, it’s a pleasure having you as my guest on All About Change, and I want to start off by thanking you for your service to our country.
I appreciate that. Thank you very much, Jay.
And I have to tell you from seeing all the videos that you’ve done and shows, you’re one of the most positive people that I’ve ever experienced in my life, I’ve seen. So, you had a big impact on me just learning about you for this podcast. I don’t know how you do it after everything that you’ve gone through in life, but you have an infectious positivity.
Well, come spend a day with me, come hang out on my house with me, and I guarantee you’ll probably see the human side of me. And what I mean by that is not that I’m this, a negative person or a pessimist and it’s all a front. What I mean is there’s this misconception that I just wake up and I’m like, “It’s going to be a great day.” And sometimes I wake up and I’m stressed and I’m overwhelmed and I’m like, “I got to do this, this, that,” whatever it may be, and I just got to find these moments to sit still, find gratitude in the space that I’m in. And when I do that, I find myself being able to show up as the best version of J.R. Martinez.
That’s beautiful. Can you tell us a little bit about your life before the military? What was it like growing up? And I know you’re particularly close to your mom. And can you just tell us about growing up as J.R. Martinez?
There’s this misconception that because of what I went through when I was 19 years old, that I immediately just became resilient. That it was a decision I made in amidst of my recovery and suddenly here I am 20 years later, successful, depending on what you define success. The first 19 years of my life were a lot of adversity, a lot of challenges, a lot of adaptability, a lot of change. But what I realized later in life, it was all conditioned in me for the major thing that was going to happen in my life and then prepare me for what ultimately was going to come of my life.
But the reality is, I always tell people, in order to really understand how I survive that trauma, you have to go back to the previous 19 years of my life. You have to look at the fact that when I was nine months old, my father left. You have to look at the fact that my mother’s from Central America, El Salvador, and immigrated to this country and literally took me to El Salvador as a kid a lot. And I got a appreciation and a perspective and a reality check.
I was born in Louisiana, lived there for the first nine years of my life. There was a lot of adversity there in a sense of my mother trying to find a partner and someone that can help raise this son. And unfortunately, fell into some really abusive relationships and I witnessed a lot of that. We moved around a lot within the Shreveport, Bossier City area. And then at nine years old, my mother decided to relocate to Hope, Arkansas because there was a better job opportunity.
And that was challenging for me, Jay, because it was predominantly white and black at that time. I was one of the first Hispanic kids to arrive. And I later identified this when I was around 32 ish years old. I realized that what I have really been searching for my entire life was the sense of belonging community. And I didn’t really have that. It was tough for me because in Arkansas it was just my mother and I. I was kind of like the lone wolf, so kids would pick on me for various reasons. And I felt incredibly isolated and I didn’t feel like I had a community and I lived there until I was a junior in high school. And within those nine years of living there, we lived in six different homes. And so that should tell you that there was no stability, no structure.
I believe in vulnerability and I believe in the sense of being completely transparent and I’m not ashamed to showcase any of that. And so I will be an open book in this conversation with you. And I will tell you that at 16 years old, I told my mother that I think about getting into a car accident because I wanted to see how many people would actually show up at the hospital.
This is 2023. If somebody heard a 16-year-old echo those same words, I think all of us would respond a lot differently because the conversation has changed. But all my mother could do back then was just give me a hug, was to tell me she loved me and make me something to eat. Listen, that was awesome. That definitely helped a lot for her to be able to do that. But I was struggling. I was looking for something deep down that I felt like I didn’t have.
But essentially my mother, I remember I asked her if we can move after my junior high school and she said no. She said, “No, this is home. I have a great job.” And you got to understand where she was coming from. I mean, my mother has a third grade education. She worked at Tyson Foods, a chicken plant in Hope, Arkansas. And for her to climb the ranks to be a supervisor on a third grade education, that was a huge accomplishment for her. And guess what? I went to Georgia a month later, I got a job, I was doing well, and my mother moved. And let me tell you something, that move to Georgia was everything. I found the community that I needed. I mean, people just embraced me immediately and just loved up on me. And that was awesome.
Well, your mother sounds like a very special person, but I wanted to ask you about joining the army. What made you decide to join the US Army?
I was looking for a way to sort of get away. I’ve always kind of felt sort of pulled and had this curiosity about this world that was out there that was bigger than these small towns that I was born and lived in. And I feel like the military was the opportunity where I felt like I could then go out into the world and experience something. It was an opportunity for me to get money for college. It was an opportunity for me to just get a skillset. And I thought I was going to do three years. That was it. I was like, I’ll do three years, I’ll do my time, I’ll serve and then I’ll get out and move on with my life. And as the saying goes, you make plans and God laughs.
And sure enough, there was a plan in place and yet life, God, whatever you believe in, had a different belief and said not so fast. We’re going to take a little bit of a detour because you’re not really supposed to be in the military. You’re supposed to use the military as essentially a stepping stone to identify some things about yourself and things that you love and things that you want to carry with you. You’re going to get those things through the military, but you’re not going to stay there forever.
I guess a bigger question is, do you have any regrets that you went into the military? I mean, after everything that you’ve gone through?
Listen, I mean just two months, just shy of two months of me arriving in my unit, I was on a plane with the rest of my unit heading over to war at the age of 19 years old. That’s six months after I signed the dotted line. I didn’t have the luxury to have extensive training. I didn’t have the luxury to, okay, understand what you’re getting into. I had to learn it while I was in it, and even though my military career was cut incredibly short, I learned so much.
I was introduced to this concept of service. I was introduced to this concept of being a part of a team and embracing the role that you play on that team. As much as all of us strive to be the executive, to have the title, to have the parking spot, to have all the responsibilities, you have to understand at some point like, “Hey, listen, this is my role on this team right now. And it’s not that, I may be striving to get that, but right now it’s this.” And embracing that and owning that and understanding that there’s value you bring to the table. The military taught me that and taught me a lot about leadership, the things that I don’t like, the things that I should never do, the things that I do like, the things that worked for me.
Bring us back to that fateful day on April 5th in 2003, and just, can you tell us what happened?
It’s a routine day. You’re patrolling through different parts of Iraq and you’re providing security for different jobs in the military. And there was one of our leaders, an officer said, this is the route we’re going to take. And then you had a couple of enlisted people, and if you know anything about the ranking system, there’s the officers and the enlisted and they tend to bump heads. The officers tend to come in, not always, but a lot of them are coming directly from college. And there’s very few officers that were once enlisted that were sort of boots on the ground, really kind of getting dirty and then they sort of transferred over, green to gold as they call it in the army and became officers. And they sort of understand how it works with people on the ground and they listen and they value those opinions and that perspective.
But in this particular case, this officer was like, this is the route we’re taking and enlisted individuals said, “Sir, that route has not been cleared. We should not go that route. We should go this route.” That officer felt like he was being questioned and he said, “Nope.”
I see. Yeah.
“This is the route we’re going to take.” That’s the route we took. That’s where I get injured. That same officer not too long before the incident took place, literally smoked me. And what that means in the military means he made me do pushups, sit-ups, every exercise that he can think of while he was lecturing me because he overheard me talk about this concept of a brotherhood and I didn’t feel like it was a brotherhood. So he took me outside and he smoked me in the middle of the desert and he talked about this brotherhood. And at the conclusion I was like, “All right, sir, I get it. All right, my bad. I’m sorry, I didn’t understand.”
Well, here we are. We’re on this routine day, routine mission. I’m driving a Humvee, three other troops in the Humvee. We’re laughing, we’re cutting up, and then all of a sudden, boom. And what happened was the front left tire of the Humvee that I was driving ran over a roadside bomb and the other three troops were thrown out of the vehicle. And they all walked away with minor physical injuries, but I was trapped inside.
And the reason I say minor physical, because even though the injuries they sustained on a physical aspect were minor, I didn’t learn this until later, that mentally and emotionally, they were just as impacted and injured as I was. Because they remember the screams, the yells, they remember the chaos. They were essentially doing roll call and they were like, “Okay, we have this person. We have that person. We have this person. Wait, we’re missing one. Where’s Martinez? Where’s Martinez?” Only to learn, I was inside of the Humvee, literally fighting for my life for five minutes nonstop, just gasping and breathing and screaming and just hanging on as much as I possibly could, believing that somebody would come and pull me out of the Humvee and my life would be spared.
And there were several instances over the course of those five minutes where I felt like, “No, it’s not going to happen. I’m going to lose my life. I’m going to die at this age and this way.” But then that’s where the previous 19 years of life comes into play because again, it conditioned me to be a fighter and not to give up and not to quit. And I would literally find myself continuing to fight and scream and yell and just hold on to hope, believing that somebody was going to pull me out. And sure enough, two of my sergeants pulled me out. It started the medevac process. The biggest thing that threatened whether I was going to survive or not, it was not just the physical injuries that I sustained. It was the internal damage. It was being inside of a Humvee for five minutes and the smoke and inhaling that. And I had a lacerated liver. I had broken ribs.
The biggest thing that was threatening whether I was going to survive was everything internally was damaged, was affected. So that’s why they put me into a medical induced coma because they felt he’s one, consuming so much energy because his body’s going through this stage of shock. He needs that energy, and so let’s just put him at ease. Plus he’s not allowing us to do what we need to do to try to give him a chance. So let’s kind of knock him out.
And from there, I went to Germany and I went into emergency surgery, and I have this huge scar that goes down, that divides my six-pack. I don’t have a six-pack. It just makes me, I just believe that if I had one, it would look so cool, but maybe one day. But once I was stable, they put me on a plane and brought me back to the United States, and I went to the burn center for the military in San Antonio, Texas.
And three weeks later, that’s when I woke up and literally to a voice of a man, which was the head doctor. And he pretty much said, “Hey, this is your new norm. This is your new reality.” I couldn’t feed myself. I didn’t know how to walk. I couldn’t go to the restroom by myself. I couldn’t do anything by myself. I was literally, almost like a child, just dependent on the staff to do everything for me.
I wake up from my medical induced coma only to learn about my new identities that I have and the identities that I lost. The first was my appearance, right? Every time I looked in a mirror for 19 years, I recognized that individual. Now I was looking and I had no idea who that person was.
The second identity that I lost was this identity of being in the military, being of service, wearing a uniform. And so that was challenging. That was tough, man. And that definitely triggered a lot of those emotions of, I would’ve been better off had they just left me in the Humvee to die because what life am I truly going to have now? This is definitely not a life worth living. That’s the way I felt. And now I was told that I was no longer going to be allowed to stay in the army. I was going to be medically discharged and thrown into this society with no tools and no resources. And I put a lot of my focus into this concept of like, I’m never going to find anybody to love me. I’m never going to be able to have a family. I’m never going to have a job. I’m never going to be able to share space with “normal people.”
And here I am 20 years later, I have a great career. I have a beautiful and amazing wife. I have beautiful children. I can share space with anybody. I look at my injury and I look at my journey and I perceive it as a blessing. I truly do. I see it as a blessing. I don’t know if I truly felt that way within that five-year period after I was injured, but that’s the way I feel about it now. And the only reason that I can say it’s a blessing now is because I’ve done a tremendous amount of work, Jay, to get to this space of where I can heal not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. And that takes effort, that takes commitment, that takes discipline, and I have made that commitment to myself over and over and over again.
So, J.R., you go through all of this horrific, I mean, the injuries, 34 months in rehab and 33 skin grafts and plastic surgeries, and yet while you’re going through this, while you’re in the hospital, you’re also supporting other injured soldiers. Where does that mental capacity to go beyond yourself and help someone at such a trying time? How’d you do it?
Well, I didn’t want to do it. And I think my life really exemplifies listening and paying attention and leaning in to things that you don’t clearly understand. So what I mean by that is six months after I was injured, I’m just going through the motions, just meeting my doctors, meeting my occupational therapist. Listen, my hands at one point were essentially like claws. I couldn’t straighten them out. I didn’t have a lot of range of motion. I would use this special tool to dress myself if I wore a shirt or even pants that required the button, I had this tool that went through the loop, hooked the button, pulled it back through the loop. That’s how I got dressed, at that point.
Six months after I was injured, one of the nurses on the burn ward said, Hey, why don’t you go and talk to this patient who just arrived, is having a difficult time adjusting with this new norm, essentially where I was six months prior. And I said, “No.” And she said, “Why not?” I said, “Because I’m not a clinician, I’m not a therapist. What am I going to say?” And she said, “Just go in and talk to him and tell him how things have gotten better for you,” is what she said. And there’s a lot of back and forth. The medical team that took care of me, they were more like family and friends than doctors and nurses at that point.
So, I am kind of bantering back and forth with this nurse as if she was my mom. I’m like, “Oh, no.” The typical teenager that doesn’t want to do something. And finally I was like, “Fine, I’ll do it.” That was my attitude going into this room. And I opened the door and it was completely dark and I felt the heaviness, the weight in this space, and all I wanted to do, Jay, was just close the door and get the hell out of there. But I just said to myself, “What message is that going to send to that patient?” And I decided I couldn’t do that. And I walked up and I literally just asked the person their name, where they were from, what unit they were in and what happened. That was it. And it literally turned into a 45 minute conversation. And at the conclusion I said to this person, I said, “Hey, I’m going to come back tomorrow and check on you. Do you need anything?” He says, “Nope. All I need is a visit.”
And I remember as I was starting to exit the room, something caught my attention and when I turned around, he turned the light on above his bed and he was actually out of his bed and he was opening the curtain to the window. So there was natural light coming into the room and that said so much to me. So instead of ignoring that and just thinking if it’s a one-off experience, I literally asked the head of the burn ward, if I can visit patients every day, and I started doing that.
There’s a couple things I want people to take away from that experience is one, my willingness to listen, but also two, listen, trauma lives in the body. Our minds will not always remember why we feel this way, why this triggers us, why we tend to sort of fall into this pattern of behavior, but our body retains all of that. Our body remembers all of that trauma. Remembers everything, it holds onto it. And it lives and it exposes itself in different ways. So a lot of us will sort of get that pit in our stomach. A lot of us will sort of get that sort of thumping of the heart.
Let me tell you, when I opened that door to that patient, I felt that pit in my stomach. I was like, “I don’t want to lean into this.” And I did. I said, “No, I’m going to push through that feeling and lean in.” And because I did, I discovered, “Oh, I can continue to serve in a very different way that I was accustomed to in the military. I can do it now through this, through talking and just putting myself in spaces and listening.” And half the time we didn’t even talk about anything heavy. I’d come in there and watch movies and watch shows or watch sports and just talk life and just chitchat and cut it up and through all this work, that’s when I learned that service and that’s when I realized, “Oh, wait a minute. I need to pay attention to this because this is going to be essentially the template that I’m going to follow for the rest of my life.”
I think the human to human contact is so important. I just visited my mom in the hospital and she’s like, “The highlight of my day is when you guys come and visit me.” And I think that that’s so important. Let’s talk a little bit about when you left the Army. What was that like for you?
That was tough. I was 22 years old and I essentially got into the world again. I started reaching out to people that for those three years would give me their business card and say, “You call me if there’s anything I can ever do for you.” And it took a lot of pride for me to actually look at those cards and actually reach out to a few people and say, “Well, what I’d like is if you can give me an opportunity to come and speak to your group.” And you know what people did? They essentially said, “Hey, listen, we think you’d be better off just speaking to veterans. Why don’t you just stay in that space?”
That sort of triggered a lot of underlying issue that again, at that point didn’t realize existed in me that I later identified through therapy. But essentially, I just this constant rejection and people not listening to me. Also that officer I talked about that suggested we go down one route and that smoked me and talked about well this is a brotherhood and we’re forever tied together. During those nearly three years in the hospital, he never reached out to me.
He never came to visit me. Nobody from my unit ever came to visit me. Meanwhile, I would go into these hospital rooms and see people from their units coming to spend at least a couple of days and just hang out with them and just chitchat or whatever. Yet, this brotherhood was non-existent for me. So as you can imagine, I develop a lot of resentment towards this concept of this brotherhood. That’s not everybody’s reality and truth, of course, that’s mine.
So, I’m getting a lot of this rejection as I get out of the military. As you can imagine, I’m carrying all this with me. I’m resentful and angry. I’m 22, Jay. I’m drinking and mixed with this emotion, that’s not a healthy recipe. I’m 22, 23, 24, essentially kind of navigating the world from this place that’s not great. It changes for me because I ended up, my best friend, one night with a group of veterans. We were traveling for this nonprofit. Somebody says something in the car. It triggers me. My best friend tells me to calm down because I’m kind of being a little nasty and I didn’t like him telling me to calm down. And so I wanted to fight him.
And instead of him retaliating and literally rocking my world because he’s 6’4″, 280 pounds. I’m 5’9″, 200. He instead leaned in and told me to sit in the passenger seat of his car once we got back to the hotel and it was just he and I, and he told me to cry. And I said, “What do you mean I need to cry?” He says, “You need to cry. You’ve healed physically. You haven’t healed emotionally or mentally. Why don’t you cry? And I was like, “I don’t need to cry. I don’t need to cry.” And then all of a sudden, Jay, I started crying. I had no idea why I was crying, and it felt so good to cry.
And I realized in that moment, I’ve been yearning to essentially allow this emotion to just kind of flow through me. But I didn’t know how to do it because vulnerability wasn’t something that was ever taught to me. My mom never taught me what vulnerability was. My mother experienced a lot of trauma. My mother never dealt with the trauma. She experienced it but never dealt with it. And those are two very different things. And so here I am crying in this car. After my best friend and I talk, he would always tell me he loved me. He would always say that to me. And I just felt it was odd. But of course after that conversation, I’m the first one that looks at him and says, “Man, I love you.”
And it wasn’t because he gave me a book or told me to listen to a podcast about vulnerability and come back and do a report. He essentially presented this space for me to understand what it’s supposed to feel like. And I felt that I was in a safe space and I felt that I could be vulnerable. And through that, I allowed myself to go there. And that changed my life, Jay. It literally set me on this trajectory. I can tell you almost to the day, that was in Indianapolis, and it was around August, 2007 when that transpired. I was sort of operating from a different place. Now I wasn’t operating from this resentment place. Now I was operating from, I need to be the educator. I need to teach people and allow people to understand who I am and what I bring to the table, that I’m not just this person that you perceive. I’m so much more than that. So, operating from that place allowed me not to carry a lot of this weight. It was light, it was easy. It was conversational. Every time I talked to anybody, it was informative and ultimately it created opportunity.
So, a few months after that interaction, I get an email because I’m selected as one of the five veterans they’re going to use to highlight, to represent the five-year anniversary of the war in Iraq. In 2008, it was going to be in People Magazine. And it ends up being a two-page spread that I get in People Magazine, and then people started reaching out to me to speak. All of a sudden now what I’ve been yearning for my entire, up until that moment, is now coming to fruition. I’m getting the opportunities to speak.
Literally, almost a year to the day I get an email to audition to become an actor on a soap opera called All My Children. I’m like, “I’m not an actor. Don’t want to be an actor. I’m not doing that.” And I just kept listening to people saying, “You should try it. You should try it. You should try it.” And I went to the audition and it turned into an opportunity where I was supposed to be there for three months. I ended up being there for three years.
Wow. And no acting lessons?
No acting lessons. I learned literally on set. I learned by watching the other actors and just picked up little things and incorporated into my scenes, and people embraced that. Now listen, there’s a great deal of criticism and scrutiny that comes online even back in 2008 on message boards where people are like, “Why would you allow somebody that looks like that on TV? Oh my God, it’s horrific to look at him on TV.” People would say those things. And I just kind of said, “Why am I going to give my energy to that stuff? I can’t control that.” And all it did was kind of fueled me more to just show up on TV and smile and just kind of be this character and tell that story.
And that ultimately led to someone, again, suggesting that I should be on Dancing With the Stars. And I was like, “Ah, yeah, what are you talking about?” And then they were like, “No, you should.” And that turned into me being on that show. That turned into me ultimately winning that competition. That turned into a book deal, speaking opportunities. I mean, my life literally just completely took off because what I realized that I was not really operating from a place of vulnerability. I wanted connection with people. I wanted to impact people, but I was operating on the surface. I didn’t have depth, I had width. I didn’t have depth and I wanted depth. And once I realized you get that depth through vulnerability because you had to learn how to be intimate with yourself first, you have to learn first and foremost what you want from yourself and what you want out of the world first. Once I had clarity on that, then I can go out into the world and say, “This is who I am. This is how I operate. This is what I want from the world.”
And I have to tell you, you’re an amazing dancer. I know you won Dancing with the Stars.
The winners and new champions of Dancing With the Stars are, J.R. and Karina.
But I watched a few episodes, and I don’t know if you’re a natural dancer or whatever, but you’re awesome.
J.R., you are wild, exuberant with animal physicality. It was like a jungle, tribal, hypnotic…
And I know you talked at one point that your mother taught you how to dance when you were younger, but you have an athletic ability. That’s something special.
Yeah. Well, I appreciate that, man.
I wanted to ask you, now that you’ve become a celebrity, an actor, that you’ve had all this exposure, tell us the connection between that and being an activist.
It all started with activism for me, right? That’s how I found my voice. That’s how I found a lot of my purpose. As I mentioned earlier, me advocating for veterans and their family members and helping them in that transition and educating people to understand how difficult it was to transition out of the military. That is so important to me. So as much as I’ll find myself being busy and pulled in different directions, I’m always going to make time for different groups that I work with that speak to my heart, whether it’s an organization, Operation TRIAGE that helps veterans, to a burn survivor organization called the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, to No Barriers, which is an organization that takes people with different abilities and essentially puts them in the outdoors and connects them with people, and they develop their rope team. To A Call to Men, which is an organization that challenges men to live as Tony Porter says, “In the Man Box,” and tries to challenge these men to live outside of that man box and essentially end violence towards women and be advocates for women.
And so that stuff fuels my soul, man. That’s the stuff where I feel like I get to connect with real people, people that are inspiring. I’m around individuals that listen, are still in the early stages of that journey. They’re still struggling, and it just humbles me to be in their presence and to feel like I have an opportunity to be an advocate for them because I found my voice, and they’re still in the early stages of finding their voice, and maybe I can be the one to speak up for them. And so advocacy is something that I will never compromise. I will never get away from that. I will always operate from that place because again, that’s all rooted in me wanting to serve, and that’s service to me.
But it sounds like your activism is really on a human level, that you’re working with, causes that you have personal experience, you understand where people are coming from. You can lend a voice, you can lend an ear. I mean, you’ve talked about listening as being so important, and those are the causes that you really truly devote your time to.
Yes, sir. Yeah, no, absolutely. What I always tell people is like, listen, just operate instead of overthinking it, just operate from what you know. Operate from the place of what you live, what you felt. That’s where you should operate from. Don’t overthink it and try to create this other tier of something that you haven’t lived or don’t quite understand. Operate from your core, from your truth.
I put myself in a safe space of being around other veterans early on, other burn survivors early on, and I was essentially being vulnerable and open. And what that did is, that just allowed me to feel safe that I was in this space with people that wouldn’t judge me. Through that exercise, I kept finding more and more, my voice, my voice, my voice, my voice ultimately getting me to a place where I felt so empowered that I was just like, “I don’t care. I’m going to put myself out there.” As you alluded to, People Magazine even listed me as one of the sexiest men alive or being on the cover of People Magazine, and it was just like, “I’m just going to put myself out there. Who cares?” But it all came from me just operating from what I’ve lived, what I know. From that I learned about other things, that I can now advocate for those things as well. But it always comes from a human experience and what I’ve actually endured.
Well, J.R., you have an extremely healthy outlook, and I wish you to go from strength to strength. I want to call on my listeners to check out your book Full of Heart: My Story of Survival, Strength and Spirit. Pick that up wherever you get a book and read that.
J.R., thank you so much for being my guest on All About Change and again, thank you for your service to our country. You went above and beyond and we love you, man.
Just thank you again for the opportunity, man. This is what I love to do, and I love to share, and I believe I have a lot to share with people, but I also believe that other people have a lot to share with me, and I’m always paying attention and listening. So, I just encourage all your listeners to continue to listen, not only to your podcast, but also to every interaction that they have with the world, whether it be a human being or an experience. Pay attention. Listen, marinate on that. So thanks again, man, and look forward to us crossing again.
Thank you so much.
J.R. Martinez’s story is made up of so much more than that one fateful day in Iraq. It’s the 19 years that came before it, and all the work, grit and generosity that’s come after J.R. has managed to transform what many would call a curse into, in his own words, a blessing. He’s taken his hardship and turned it into a helping hand. May we all strive to do the same.
That’s it for today’s episode. Join us two weeks from today as I sit down with civil rights activists, Chelsea Miller, co-founder of Freedom March NYC. Today’s episode was produced by Kim Huang with story editing by Yochai Maital and Mijon Zulu. To check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website allaboutchangepodcast.com. If you like our show, spread the word. Tell a friend or family member or leave us a review on your favorite podcasting app. We would really appreciate it. All About Change is produced by the Ruderman Family Foundation. A special thanks to our production team at Pod People, David Zwick, Grace Pina, Morgane Fouse, Bryan Rivers, and Aimee Machado. That’s all for now. I’m Jay Ruderman, and we’ll see you next time in all about Change All Reform.
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