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National Youth Event, July 10-13, 2012, Purdue University
JR Martinez - Keynote Speaker

Thursday, July 12 – Imagine a World Where Differences Are Embraced

Son
Jose Rene Martinez was born on June 14, 1983 in Shreveport, LA to Maria Zavala. At a young age, he moved to Hope, Arkansas, where he and his mother lived until he was 17. They moved to Dalton, Georgia, just prior to his senior year, to the place he now proudly calls his hometown.

Soldier
After his high school graduation, J.R. saw a commercial for the Army, which intrigued him. In March of 2003, J.R. was deployed to Iraq, and on April 5, less than a month into his deployment, he was serving as a driver of a Humvee in Karbala, when his left front tire hit a land-mine. Three other soldiers with J.R. were ejected from the burning vehicle, but Martinez was trapped inside. J.R. suffered smoke inhalation and severe burns to more than 40 percent of his body. Martinez claims that while he was fighting for his life and awaiting medical help in Iraq, his sister Anabel, who passed away when J.R. was a child, appeared to him, giving him the strength to stay alive.

Survivor
After he was pulled out of the Humvee, J.R. was evacuated to a local medic station in Iraq and then Landstuhl, Germany, for immediate care. He was eventually sent to Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, Texas. J.R. spent 34 months in recovery at BAMC and underwent 33 different surgeries including skin grafts and cosmetic surgery.

During his time in recovery, a nurse asked him to speak to a burn patient, who had just seen his body for the first time and had become withdrawn. After an approximate 45-minute visit, the patient opened the curtain letting light in his room and his heart. J.R. then understood the impact he had on this patient and decided to use his experience to help others, visiting with several of the patients in the hospital, sharing his story and listening to theirs. Since then, J.R. has become a highly sought-after motivational speaker, traveling the country to spread his message of resilience and optimism. He is called on by a wide-range of groups and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, 60 Minutes, The View, CNN, Inside Edition, FOX News, Good Morning America, Univision, along with other major national news outlets.

In October 2008, J.R. stepped into another role, when he was cast as combat veteran Brot Monroe on ABC's Emmy® Award-winning daytime drama All My Children. He continued as part of the cast until the show finale in September 2011. J.R. keeps busy with speaking engagements, along with his extensive charity work. He is also the 2011 champion of ABC's Dancing with the Stars!

While J.R.'s experience was certainly life-changing, amazingly he claims this is actually a change for the better. He has discovered it is what is inside a person that matters most and devotes himself to showing others the true value in making the most of every situation. "I wouldn't change anything…absolutely anything!" J.R. says. "I do believe everything happens for a reason, and I'm extremely grateful for that day because it led me into this life!"

JR Martinez Official Website

Contact: Waltrina Middleton, Minister for Youth Advocacy and Leadership Formation, at middletonw@ucc.org or 216-736-3871