J.R. Martinez's Dramatic Journey To 'DWTS'

'Dancing with the Stars' contestant J.R. Martinez / seen in his U.S. Army headshot at the age of 19 'Dancing with the Stars' contestant J.R. Martinez / seen in his U.S. Army headshot at the age of 19

Military veteran and “All My Children” star J.R. Martinez got off to a stellar “Dancing with the Stars” start on Monday night – scoring 22 points on his first dance – but his road to the ballroom might be unlike any other star before him.

“I’m proud of these scars, I’m proud of my journey, and I’m proud of it because it led me to be right here with you,” J.R. told his professional partner Karina Smirnoff on the season premiere of the hit ABC series.

J.R. joined the military at 19 and while deployed in Iraq in 2003 as United States Army infantryman, he ran over a land mine while driving a truck. He suffered burns to 40 percent of his body, lost most of the hair on his head and one of his ears.

“J.R. is a real-life hero. He’s such an inspiration and his outlook on life is so positive,” partner Karina said of J.R. on Monday’s show.

Following his harrowing accident in Iraq, he underwent 33 surgeries, including numerous painful skin grafts and tissue expansion to repair the damage to his body.

The 28-year-old, who originally hails from Shreveport, Louisiana, went on to become a motivational speaker and an actor on ABC’s “All My Children” – and through it all, never lost his sense of humor.

“I only have one ear, so I only catch one half of the sentence,” he said, joking with partner Karina in footage of a rehearsal shown during the premiere.

His perseverance and hard work rehearsing appear to have paid off. J.R. tied for first place with Chynna Phillips – both stars earning 22/30 – and received heaps of praise from judge Len Goodman, who said, “J.R. stands for just right.”

Judge Carrie Ann Inaba continued the accolades, saying, “I was absolutely touched by your performance. You’re able to bring an emotional quality to your dance on day one, that’s mind blowing.”

Access Hollywood’s Shaun Robinson caught up with J.R. and Karina after their big night, where he spoke about being an inspiration to others.

“My war was in the military over in Iraq, but a lot of people face a different kind of war in everyday life and it’s not easy. But you just have to remember that there’s a goal at the end. There’s light at the end. You just gotta keep fighting through every single day,” he said. “You gotta push through and not give up and know at the end of the day you’re going to be the top of the leader board.”

Earlier during the show, the veteran-turned-actor raved about working with Karina and getting to know his fellow contestants and their pro partners.

“I have an amazing, amazing partner and she’s so talented to teach me all things she’s taught me, it’s been an absolute pleasure,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to be here with all these dancers and just go on this journey.”

As his “DWTS” journey begins, another chapter in his life, “All My Children,” where he’s played former combat veteran and policeman Brot Monroe since 2008, is coming to an end this week as the ABC soap ends its run.

“If it wasn’t for ‘All My Children’ I wouldn’t even be considered to be here, to be a part of this amazing cast. I’m so grateful for what ‘All My Children’ did for me, and the fans, the loyal fans,” he told Shaun. “It is sad that it is going to end this week. It’s been kind of an emotional rollercoaster, but at the same time, I understand new opportunities and new goals and you gotta just go out there and do it.”

Assuming his high scores are enough to push him through to next week, J.R. revealed to Shaun that he and Karina will be doing the jive next week.

“It’s fun… It’s something we’re looking forward to doing,” he added.

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