Written by Daniel Hazard
J.R. Martinez is on a roll. And now he is coming to National Youth Event 2012.
The actor - whose popular Brot Monroe character on ABC-TV's "All My Children" added a military veteran's presence to the final years of the daytime drama's 41-year run - has inspired millions with his long, painful road back from life-threatening injuries sustained in the Iraq war.
Winner of the "Dancing with the Stars" competition last year on ABC-TV, Martinez is will be the keynoter when United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) youth gather July 10-13 for the National Youth Event on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
“There was a time in my life when I felt I had lost everything, and the only thing I could do was imagine,” said Martinez, echoing the theme of NYE 2012. “By standing alongside my faith, I have been able to turn imagining to happening.
“By sharing my experiences, I hope that I will be able to empower the youth at National Youth Event spiritually, emotionally and physically,” he said.
In the spring of 2003, less than a month into his deployment to Iraq, Martinez was driving a Humvee in Karbala when the left front tire hit a landmine. Three soldiers were ejected and Martinez was trapped inside. He suffered smoke inhalation and severe burns over more than 40 percent of his body.
Martinez says that while he was fighting for his life and awaiting medical help, his sister Anabel, who died when she was a toddler, appeared to him and gave him the strength to stay alive. Martinez was evacuated to a local medic station in Iraq, then to Germany and eventually to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. He spent 34 months in recovery, undergoing 33 surgeries that included skin grafts and cosmetic surgery.
“Mr. Martinez accepted the invitation because he was inspired by our core values as a denomination and by the mission and commitment of NYE to nurture youth who are the future right now," said Waltrina Middleton, UCC minister for youth advocacy and leadership formation.
Martinez's story offers inspiring narratives on his unbreakable faith, his determination as a veteran of war, and his deep love for his family, community and country. Likewise, NYE participants are advocates for social justice, leaders of their peers and profoundly conscious about the world.
Martinez now travels the country, spreading his message of resilience and hope to large corporations, veterans groups, nonprofits and schools. He has shared the stage with such high-profile self-help gurus as Tony Robbins.
He has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and The New York Times, and has appeared on "Oprah," "60 Minutes," "The View," "Good Morning America," "Rachel Ray," CNN and Univision.
"I discovered it's is what is inside a person that matters most, and I wouldn't change anything – absolutely anything!" said Martinez. "I do believe everything happens for a reason, and I'm extremely grateful for that date because it led me into this life."
Martinez was born June 14, 1983, in Shreveport, La., to Maria Zavala. His sisters, Consuelo and Anabel, were raised in El Salvador with his mother's family. At age 9, Martinez moved with his mother to Hope, Ark., where he lived until he was 17.
He then moved to Dalton, Ga., where he played on a high school team that reached the state championship football game. Martinez had dreams of playing professional football until he suffered an injury his senior year.
"We hope his presence at NYE will help redefine what imagine looks like and push our youth even further out of the box in their pursuit of making hopes, prayers and dreams come true," said Middleton. "He was just a young person himself when he left for war in a foreign land. He understands what it means to change lives. He understands continuing testament. He is a perfect fit for NYE 2012."
Check the United Church of Christ Youth’s Facebook page for daily updates on youth ministry and NYE. In addition, a Twitter account (TheUCCYouth) and a Facebook invite (NYE 2012 invite) have been created to get the word out about NYE.