J.R. Martinez, subject of Wilton documentary, to make debut on ‘Dancing with the Stars’

Posted on 09/09/2011

By MATT COYNE

Village Staff Writer

WILTON — J.R. Martinez has done a lot in the seven years since he was trapped in a land mine-damaged Humvee and suffered severe burns while deployed in Iraq.

After spending 34 months in recovery, undergoing 33 surgeries — including skin grafts and cosmetic surgeries — Martinez became a motivational speaker. He is one of the subjects documentary that’s still in production called “Trial by Fire: Lives Re-forged,” which is produced and directed by Wilton resident Megan Smith-Harris. And in 2008, Martinez went to a casting call for combat veterans for the ABC soap “All My Children.” Without any acting experience, Martinez got the role.

Now Martinez is ready to take the stage on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” the celebrity dance-off heading into its 12th season.

“I’m really proud of my role on ‘All My Children,’” said Martinez in a press release from Pyewackitt Productions, the production company behind “Trial by Fire.” “I’m not portraying a serial killer, I’m not portraying a bad guy, I’m portraying a soldier, a burn survivor, faced with many obstacles integrating back into civilian life.”

On “Dancing with the Stars,” Martinez will dance with Karina Smirnoff, a nine-season veteran of the show.

Before his tenure in the Army and the accident that burned him, Martinez was an athlete, playing strong safety on the Dalton High School football team from Dalton, Ga. After his stint in the Army, Martinez planned on going to college to become a physical therapist.

“He’s a really charismatic person. (He was) 19-years-old, good looking, athletic guy, and suddenly his whole life is transformed,” Smith-Harris said. “Through his perseverance and his positive attitude, and his desire not to be defined by his injuries, (he’s gone on and had) a full and rich life.”

Smith-Harris chose Martinez as one of the seven stories for her film because of the way in which he faced his injuries, and his success in overcoming it.

“JR really embodies so many of the traits that I’m looking for in a story. He got injured when he was 19. It was the last thing that he ever expected to happen to him. And one of the points of the film is just that this really can happen to anyone at any time, and none of us ever expect it, but it can and it does,” Smith-Harris said. “A large part of your life is just surviving and getting back into society and back to your life. And then you have to reassess your life.”

“Trial by Fire” is close to being finished, with Smith-Harris and her staff finishing up a fine cut that will be sent to film festivals and brought to the World Burn Congress later this month in Cincinnati. The World Burn Congress is an annual conference for burn survivors organized by the Phoenix Society, a national nonprofit for the empowerment of anyone affected by a burn injury through peer support, education, and advocacy.

“To be able to take this back and show it to the burn community is a real honor for me,” Smith-Harris said. “These are heroic people and courageous people, and there’s no pain, I think, equivalent to what they go through. And to come out the other end is quite remarkable.”

“Dancing with the Stars” 13th season debuts on Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. on ABC with a two hour premier.

“Trial by Fire” is a nonprofit production. Anyone interested in supporting the film can make a tax deductible donation at http://www.trialbyfiredoc.com.