In May 2003, J.R. Martinez was sitting in a room at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Around him were his mother, Maria Zavala, his facial therapist and a nurse. Less than one year after enlisting in the U.S. Army, the 19-year-old former high school football star was in an unfamiliar situation: He was re-learning how to walk.
Nine and a half years later, Martinez is learning how to run -- a marathon. Never a distance runner before this year, Martinez has partnered with Timex and the New York Road Runners (NYRR) Youth Programs for a noble cause. Martinez will start Sunday's ING New York City Marathon dead last, and for every runner he passes, Timex will donate $1 to the NYRR's Youth Programs.
It's been said that good guys finish last. At the ING New York City Marathon, that's where they start.
"It just shows you how crazy life can be,” Martinez told ThePostGame of his journey during the past decade, "and the things that you can accomplish and how far you can actually go if you set your mind to it."
On April 5, 2003, Martinez was driving a Humvee in Iraq when the vehicle's front left tire hit a landmine. While other soldiers were thrown from the Humvee, Martinez was trapped inside. Within moments Martinez was in unbearable pain; smoke was filling the truck and Martinez's body had become severely burned.
By the time Martinez was rescued, more than 40 percent of his body had suffered third-degree burns. Army doctors weren't sure if Martinez would survive the attacks, and he was kept in a coma for several weeks as he recovered.
Martinez spent two arduous years in the hospital, undergoing more than 30 surgeries and relearning basic skills, like walking. When he was released, he weighed 240 pounds, which he knew was too much for his 5-foot-9 frame. He had to cut back on some of his favorite Texas cooking ("It's good, but it's not good for you," he jokes) and start working out regularly.
Now, Martinez runs five days a week and says he feels the benefits of his hard work every day.
"Not only do I feel better physically, I'm more confident," Martinez said. "It's amazing when you're physically active and you take of yourself what it really does for you."
There's also some external motivation for Martinez this weekend, as every runner he passes means another dollar for the NYRR’s Youth Programs. Last year, softball star Jennie Finch raised $30,000, and Martinez says his goal is to top that mark.
"Everybody is a dollar sign for me in that damn race," Martinez said as he lets out a chuckle. "That's the way I'm looking at you, you are a dollar sign, I don't care what your bib number is, you are a freaking dollar sign to me and I am J.R. Martinez and I'm going to pass you."
Martinez's training is made more difficult by the fact that he has traveled constantly during the past year, taking speaking engagements across the country. After gettng out of the hospital, Martinez landed a role in All My Children in 2008, and then catapulted to a new level of fame after winning Season 13 of Dancing With The Stars in 2011.
Martinez has quickly become one of the foremost voices for veterans across the country, and that's a distinction he does not take lightly.
"For me, it's so cool to have that opportunity to be able to ... represent, to be one of the examples of perseverance," Martinez said. "To be proof that the mind and the body can overcome a lot of things and get through a lot of things."
As any runner knows, training on the road can be extremely difficult. Not only does all that flying take a toll on the legs, it is much harder to track distance in unfamiliar settings. To help alleviate the stress on his feet, Martinez wears compression socks whenever he flies.
And because he is often forced to run in different cities, Martinez is using a special watch -- the Timex GPS Run Trainer -- to track pace, distance and heart rate. Martinez says the watch has helped immensely, eliminating the hassle of using a phone or physically mapping out a route. And for a man as busy as Martinez, the fewer worries he has, the better.
In addition to the marathon Sunday, Martinez recently released a book, Full of Heart and is also a new father. His daughter, Lauryn Anabelle, was born in May.
With all that's he's juggling -- training for a marathon, writing a book, raising a daughter -- Martinez has had some long nights and rough days duringthe past year. But he wouldn't have it any other way.
"As crazy and hectic as it's been, I'm blessed," Martinez said. "Because, you know, in a bad economy right now, a lot of people aren't working. And to have the opportunity to be doing one thing, but then to have the opportunity to do three things, I'm not complaining at all, man."
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