In April 2003, 19-year-old J.R. Martinez was driving his unit in a Humvee in Iraq when the front left tire hit a roadside bomb.

“Within a matter of seconds, this Humvee was now engulfed in flames,” Martinez said. He was trapped inside the fire for five minutes.

In the years since the accident, Martinez took on a variety of roles. He became a motivational speaker, starred in All My Children for three years and won season 13 of Dancing With the Stars.

On Wednesday, March 14, Martinez was the keynote speaker for APSU’s Unity Celebration. He spent the time talking about his life and urged students to make the most out of each phase of their lives, while also pushing themselves out of their comfort zones.

“All of you right now, you’re in your box. It may have a shaky foundation It may have a rocky foundation I don’t know what it has. But it’s your box and you’re there for a reason,” Martinez said. “Own it. Make the most of it. at the same time, look at each other. This is called a Unity Celebration. Embrace each other. Embrace the differences that we all share.”

Martinez described his life as a series of boxes and goals, each box being his comfort zone. As a child, he wanted to be an NFL player and convinced his mother to move from Arkansas to Georgia to pursue his dream.

When those plans did not work out, Martinez joined the army. Martinez said that his life has shown him a series of challenges, but because he was willing to change, he was able to overcome.

“Change is not bad if you’re willing to adapt,” Martinez said, later adding that life is a series of choices. “That’s what life is, it’s installments you don’t just make one choice, you constantly make choices.”

Now Martinez is back in school.

What is important, Martinez said, is staying true to oneself in every role life presents.

“I was a kid that grew up with nothing, but there was still so much there that taught me so much. At the same time, I found a voice, I have a voice, I have a platform. But it’s important for me to represent what I am, and be true to myself,” Martinez said. “I am a Hispanic, I am a a child of an immigrant I am someone who’s served. I am a veteran. I am a father. I am a friend.”