'Dancing with the Stars' contestant speaks at SAU - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

'Dancing with the Stars' contestant speaks at SAU

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COLLEGEDALE, HAMILTON COUNTY (WRCB)-- Dalton's very own J.R. Martinez is on this season's Dancing with the Stars reality show.

Martinez is a former Army soldier and current soap opera star.

He's scarred from severe burns suffered in Iraq, but his determination to beat the odds, and his gift for motivating others has propelled him to center stage.

At 19 years old, no more than one month after deployment to Iraq, his humvee hit a land-mine. The road to recovery did not come easy, as the accident sent him to what he calls a "dark place".

Thursday, he took some time to tell students at Southern Adventist University how he broke through that "dark place".

Martinez shared what he remembered from the accident, "I looked to my passenger and said that's funny, I turned to look at the road, and boom! Next thing I remember I was screaming and yelling to get me out of the truck."

On April 5, 2003, J.R. Martinez's life changed forever. The accident burned 40 percent of his body. He was awake the whole time thinking it was about to end.

J.R. spent the next several months in a Texas hospital.

"I became depressed. I cried because I'm 19 years old and I have a whole life ahead of me. A whole life ahead of me, and I look like this," Martinez said. "And I'm thinking to myself, why would my life be spared?"

After months of depression, a doctor simply asked him to go talk to another wounded soldier. In a room that was as dark as night, Martinez spent 45 minutes talking as if they were friends.

"Right before I left the room, I grabbed the door handle, turned around to look. Just to realize that big window, the curtain was half open. The light was on above his bed. I thought to myself, something so simple said so much to me. I gave him hope," said Martinez.

He found his life's purpose and he's preaching it around the world. He says April 5, 2003 is no longer a tragic day, it was a day of re-birth.

"I've welcomed the new person. There are times I have to think about how eight years ago I was in the early stages of recovery. And now look what I've done," said Martinez.

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