The recent California Association of Realtors annual meeting featured J.R. Martinez, retired Iraq War veteran, soap opera star and Dancing with the Stars 2011 champion.
Martinez shared his perspective on determination as well as the flexibility required to have a successful and happy life.
J.R. shared his journey through life and an inspiring tale of overcoming tragedy and learning how to not only survive, but thrive to become a motivational speaker. He shared how he learned to accept unexpected change and overcome his many obstacles. It gives me great pleasure to share his inspiring tale of trauma and triumph.
Life is about plans, dreams and goals. J.R. said, “We are lucky, we never lose our ability to make choices for ourselves.”
He made several choices while growing up as he was raised by his single mom. At a young age he created long term goals by visually seeing himself as a pro football player. As a kid he was persistent. When he believed in something for his future, he took the steps to actually create change in his life. He feels that as adults we sometimes lose sight of going after things we want. But, at the age of 18, he had a plan. That plan forced him out of his comfort zone. J.R. realized he needed to adapt to change as he wanted to eliminate fear and overcome some of those negative feelings that could hold him back.
There are times when we have to tweak our short term goals in order to meet our long term goals. Therefore, at the age of 19 he joined the US Army. Although, he saw himself as a football player in his future, he saw a life in the military as a means to meet a short term goal. He saw this as a chance to travel, learn about life, get educated, be on his own and most importantly to give back to his country. He joined the most dangerous branch, the infantry, he signed up for combat.
The military experience taught him how to instantly adapt to his superiors change orders, to take new plans and make them work. On April 5 of his first year in the Army, he was driving a Humvee from southern Iraq to northern Iraq. Then, just like that, his life changed forever. The tire of the Humvee drove over a roadside bomb and all the fuel, ammunition, and personal gear detonated inside the vehicle. Three of the passengers flew out the vehicle. However, J.R. was pinned inside a fully flamed Humvee for nearly 5 minutes. He was physically trapped gasping for air. He knew that his hands had changed forever. Later he learned that he had broken ribs and burns on 34 percent of his body. Twenty-four percent were first degree burns and 10 percent were second degree burns.
Through this experience, he learned that human beings have a reserve tank of fuel. When our main tank is empty, we still have the reserve tank that is full of will, desire, commitment and dedication. We can all depend on that when unexpected change hits our lives.
In an instant J.R.’s plan, goals and dreams were blown up. The days and months that followed were emotionally and physically painful. He was flown from Iraq to Germany and then to San Antonio, Texas. While laid up in a hospital bed where he couldn’t do anything for himself, he knew his goals had changed and he struggled with what his life would be like? When he made the decision to look in the mirror to see how he physically looked he was scared. He admittedly says that the first day that he looked in the mirror, he wondered, why did this happen to me? But, he looked far different than he looks now, 9.5 years and 33 surgeries later.
As one might expect, he was certainly distraught with how his scarred body looked and how his distorted face would appeal to others. His mom stayed near him in the burn unit in Texas. She told him “if you believe, if you don’t quit, if you stay positive people will be in your life for you, not how you look.”
“It’s important to have the best attitude as you start and end each day.” said J.R. His goal now is to give others hope daily. He said, “You must work hard, believe, stay positive, and adapt to change, leave the comfort zone and make choices that are good for you. When feeling overwhelmed, sometimes it’s imperative to take simple steps, one at a time.”
The most meaningful motto that keeps swirling in my head since hearing this talk was “you must bend and not break.” As life continues for each of us, there will be curves in the road, but those twists and turns may just be the best road ever taken for each of you.
Every section of your life gives you tools, skills and abilities needed to go after your current dreams and goals. Our past experiences build on themselves and lead you to the next which makes you the person you are today. His inspirational words that inspired me are never quit, bend but don’t break and pursue life to its fullest despite the challenges and unexpected changes that take you out of your comfort zone.
J.R. Martinez’s tale of trauma and inspiration left a lasting effect on me. Through adversity he has so much grace and appreciation for life. He has an exemplary spirit. He encourages others to never give up on their dreams. All of us can have an unimaginable effect on one person with the simple concept of making him or her feel cared for, appreciated and valued. He truly had this unbelievable effect on me. My attitudes have changed forever in a positive way after having the opportunity to have J.R. Martinez cross my path of life and share his incredibly inspiring story with me.
Beverly Taki is a California-licensed real estate broker who has represented clients in Malibu for 23 years. She is a Malibu resident and president/broker of Seabreeze Estates Realty. Beverly has earned a certificate in dispute resolution from Pepperdine University, School of Law specializing in mediation. Taki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310-456-4843. Her website is beverlytaki.com.