J.R. Martinez has faced a lot of challenges in his life — including recovering from severe burns he suffered while serving as an Army infantryman in Iraq in 2003 — but his tie for first place at the conclusion of the initial round of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” in the first week was bittersweet.
His opportunity to move, with pro partner Karina Smirnoff, into the next round came only days before the end of the ABC daytime drama “All My Children,” on which he has played injured Iraq war vet Brot Monroe since 2008.
The show ended it nearly 42-year TV run on Friday, Sept. 23.
“It’s sad,” Martinez tells Zap2it. “It really is sad. Soaps play such a big part in people’s lives. It’s bigger than me; it’s bigger than the characters; it’s bigger than any one show. That’s the way people spend quality time together.
“So, to see it go away, it’s just tough. I’m so grateful for having the opportunity to have been on ‘All My Children’ for the three years I was on. To be here at the end, and to be a part of the end — I’m so grateful for it. I’m so grateful for all the people who supported me on ‘All My Children,’ the fans, who are now supporting me on ‘Dancing With the Stars.’
“If it wasn’t for ‘All My Children,’ I never would have even been considered for ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ so I’m grateful for it.”
Martinez and Smirnoff got high marks for their Viennese waltz, finishing atop the leaderboard in a tie with singer Chynna Phillips and her pro partner, Tony Dovolani.
“It’s rewarding to know,” Martinez says, “you put so much work into it, and it pays off by allowing you a second chance to come back and do another dance. Now I look forward to working on week to, working on the jive, hopefully jiving my way to the top of the leaderboard.”
In the waltz, Martinez and Smirnoff tried a risky move, in which Martinez held his partner’s arms and swirled her around the floor — a move that had resulted more than once with both of them in a heap during rehearsal.
“She was a great sport,” he says. “She was trying to tell me it didn’t hurt. Deep down, I knew that it hurt, and it was discouraging, that I was putting her through that pain.”
Martinez says it wasn’t until dress rehearsal, dancing on the revamped ballroom’s new floor, that he felt confident the move could stay
“We thought about taking it out,” he says. “We talked about it. We were all set, the both of us, for taking it out and doing something else. We received some encouragement, and we were told, ‘You guys should keep it,’ and so we kept it.
“On this new floor, it’s so beautiful and smooth, you can just fly. You can literally glide on that thing.”
This Monday night, Sept. 26, Martinez is really going to have to step up the foot speed for the jive.
“It’s a fun dance,” he says, “and it’s going to give us a chance to show off my natural personality, just being fun and energetic and out there all the time.”
Martinez credits his positive outlook with helping him endure more than 30 cosmetic and skin-graft surgeries after a landmine explosion left him burned over 40 percent of his body.
Now he takes that energy and uses it to help his fellow veterans, whether it’s one-on-one, as a motivational speaker, or through groups like Operation Finally Home, which provides custom-built mortgage-free homes to disabled veterans and spouses of fallen veterans, to help them rebuild their lives.
“What helped me, honestly,” Martinez says, “was having the opportunity to go and be a part of helping vets. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go back to Iraq; I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that job again. So, the fact that I was able to serve in that capacity, it helped me. It allowed me to forget about everything I was going through. It was therapeutic.”
Martinez also has a message for those who worry about interacting with or hiring veterans who may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“That just goes to show the lack of education that people have,” he says. “They hear PTSD, and they have a tendency to gravitate towards it, stick to it, and all of a sudden classify everyone with PTSD, that they’re a walking time bomb. But that’s not the case.
“PTSD just means you’ve seen some things, you’ve dealt with some things. You just need to get them to talk, just need to give them some hope. Me being out there, me having a voice, helps them a lot. Educating Americans on who we are and what we are, helps them as well.
“A lot of these guys don’t feel that they have a voice. If I can help them, if I can be that voice, that’s my job; that’s my duty; that’s my way to keep continuing to serve.”
And Martinez is getting support on his ballroom endeavors from his fellow vets and active-duty service members — but there is a price to pay.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he says, “I know that military guys, because it is the military, we like to make fun of each other all the time. They’re going to give me some grief.
“I know they’re supporting me, and regardless of all the fun and games and the nicknames that they’ve given me, they’ll be picking up the phone and going online to vote.”