J.R. Martinez's Journey from the Battlefield to the Dance Floor

Season 5 Episode 515
Aired on 10/10/2015 | CC tv-14
In April 2004, Oprah traveled to the Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas to interview soldiers injured in the line of duty. During that visit, she met J.R. Martinez, an Iraq war veteran who suffered burns to more than 30 percent of his body when a roadside mine exploded in 2003. Little did she know, this young man would go on to become an actor, a Dancing with the Stars champ and an inspiration to the entire country.

Now, more than 10 years later, J.R. reflects on the difficult period following his injury. "When I had the opportunity to meet Oprah, it was a year after my injury, and I was in this space as a young 20-year-old where I was kind of learning that I had this potential to influence simply by using my story," he says. "But yet, at the same time, underneath all of that, there still was an element of the darkness."

After getting out of the Army in 2006, J.R. set out to become a motivational speaker, but he says he became frustrated when things didn't go as planned. "They're not looking at you as a son. They're not looking at you as a friend. They're not looking at you as an individual that laughs or cries or feels," he says. "They're looking at you as a veteran. I just started thinking to myself, 'Well, maybe this was foolish of me.'"

Then, in 2008, J.R. was cast to play Brot Monroe on All My Children. His character also served with the army in Iraq and was injured in combat. This three-month gig quickly turned into three seasons, and after All My Children went off the air, J.R. was offered another exciting opportunity—the chance to compete on Dancing with the Stars.

In the above video, J.R. reveals why he cried when he got the call from Dancing with the Stars producers.

Learn more about J.R. Martinez.