J.R. Martinez, Iraq war veteran, wins it all on ‘DWTS’

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J.R. Martinez, the Iraq war veteran who was badly disfigured in a land mine explosion, danced away with the championship trophy on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ on Tuesday -- and stole America’s hearts with his relentlessly upbeat attitude and positive energy.

It’s safe to say: America has a new war hero.

The name ‘J.R. Martinez’ was unknown to most Americans and stuck out when ABC announced the roster of celebrities competing in this season of the hit show. But that didn’t last long.


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First off, there was his appearance. A U.S. Army veteran, Martinez was driving a Humvee in Iraq when the vehicle struck a land mine. He suffered severe burns over 40% of his body, and his recovery was marked by several painful surgeries and years of rehab.

This particular contestant may have given youth-and-beauty-obsessed Americans a jolt and, perhaps, a lesson in true beauty.

Martinez’s refusal to allow his looks to define him -- or let his injuries stand in his way or dampen his spirit -- made headlines around the world. It nabbed him a cover story in People magazine and, later, a coveted spot on its ‘sexiest men’ list. Martinez also was chosen as grand marshal of the 123rd annual Tournament of Roses parade.

Martinez wasn’t a stranger to all the 18 million people who tuned in each week to watch him dance. The 28-year-old motivational speaker even had a spot on ‘All My Children.’

‘You’ve got such a sparkling personality, you just light up this room,’ ‘DWTS’ judge Len Goodman said.

Martinez and professional partner Karina Smirnoff claimed the mirrorball trophy over fellow finalists Rob Kardashian and Ricki Lake, thanks to a combination of viewers’ votes and the say of the judges.

‘We’ve been able to create a lot of magical moments on the show, and to top it off with this is amazing,’ Martinez said, according to the Associated Press.

Martinez already has plans for that glittery trophy.

“Right now I’m going to put mine in bed. I’m going to tuck it in, and it’s going to roll around with me,” he said, beaming. “And then after that, once we’ve kind of grown apart, I’m going to glue it to the hood of my car and drive around Los Angeles and honk my horn and it will be my own parade.”

As for the rest of life? ‘I want to focus on writing a book. I want to tell people more in-depth the story of who J.R. Martinez is and what I’ve been through,” he said. ‘And at the same time, I want to continue acting, continue doing motivational speaking and, from time to time, call Karina and say, ‘Let’s go dance.’ ‘


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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch