Soap opera star J.R. Martinez may soon be hoisting the mirror ball trophy over his head on “Dancing with the Stars.”
During last night’s premiere of ABC’s hit reality series, the 28-year-old wounded Iraq veteran-turned actor and his dancing partner Karina Smirnoff waltzed their way to the top of the leader board. The show’s judges awarded the El Salvadoran-American Martinez and Smirnoff with 22 points out of a possible 30, enough to tie former Wilson Phillips singer Chynna Phillips and her dancing partner Tony Dovalani for first place.
Earlier this month, Martinez reported that he’s been having a blast working with Smirnoff during their two-week training period.
“I’ve learned so much,” professes Martinez. “Karina is an amazing talent. She has shown me that it’s all posture, and framing and being elegant. It’s all about fingers and toes. Being a guy, I tend to move all over the place.”
Whether Martinez moves well enough to win the top prize, his participation on the show could make a difference to soldiers, war veterans and burn victims alike.
Martinez suffered burns to more than 40% of his body, including his face, after his Humvee hit a land mine while deployed with the Army in Iraq in 2003. He’s since undergone more than 30 cosmetic and skin graft surgeries.
“Yes, I cried at night,” Martinez has said of sustaining his life-changing injuries. “Girls would hardly talk to me because I wasn’t the most attractive guy in the bar. I had to grieve the loss of the old J.R.”
During his recovery, a nurse asked Martinez to speak to another burn patient who had become withdrawn after seeing his body for the first time. After his visit, the patient opened the curtain letting light into his room. Martinez knew then the impact he had on the patient and decided to share his story to help others. Since then, J.R. has become a highly sought-after motivational speaker who travels the country to spread his message of resilience and optimism.
Martinez says he jumped at the chance to compete on “Dancing with the Stars” as a way to get his message out further. He’s hoping viewers will be reminded of the troops still serving overseas when they see him, and that he’ll inspire military members to push themselves into new challenges.
“This is outside of my comfort zone,” confesses Martinez. “It’s a personal challenge for myself. I’ve got a little rhythm in me, and Karina is trying to get that out. That’s the biggest challenge right now.”
After last night’s premiere, it appears Martinez has found his groove. And he could go all the way to the finale!