J.R. Martinez

Last week, J. R. Martinez wasn't too sure how he would approach whatever crowd will attend his speech at Harrah's Resort Casino on Thursday.

Would he talk about his experience in adapting? It's a skill he had to learn seven months after enlisting in the U.S. Army, burns tattooing more than 30 percent of his body in an errant Humvee explosion in Iraq. He struggled to survive.

Or would it be more prudent to talk about reaching a long-term goal? He wanted to become a positive role model after his 2003 accident. His speaking engagements grew from hospital beds in burn units to major concert venues and the television screens of "Dancing With The Stars" and "All My Children" fans.

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He could even bring up Harrah's surroundings, speaking about the importance of taking risks or gambling in life.

He thinks he'll brush on all those topics at one point or another during his 8 p.m. talk in Harrah's Concert Venue. But in his 10 years of public and motivational speaking, the former soldier and current motivational personality admitted it's more important to him knowing what an audience will take away from his discussions, dictating which of his multiple stories to tell.

"My agenda is that I want people to walk away with something that will help them in their lives, help them in general," he said.

Martinez is kicking off a speaker series held at Harrah's that will include baseball legend Pete Rose and NASA and NFL alum Leland Melvin. This is not the first time Martinez will share his optimism with locals: He spoke at Richard Stockton College in February 2012 as a joint project between the school's First Year Experience and Veteran Services groups.

Positivity is a big part of Martinez's conversations with his audience (Conversations, because he does not like to lecture and talk at people). Keeping an optimistic attitude, despite his achievements as an author and a television star, is something he said he struggles with on occasion.

"Given everything I've been through, given everything I've done, a lot of people would think, 'He's got it all figured out, he's good.' But even me, I have moments when I get down on myself. Then I think of ... other people that I look up to, and (I) say, "C'mon J.R., get over it, piece it together'."

Others who have traversed hardships such as his were the inspiration for his newest project, "Champions Among Us." The multimedia documentary, planned for both television and the Internet, highlights Americans who look past their own obstacles to serve their communities. One man, paralyzed after being struck by a drunk driver, now mentors children in his town. And another man set up a registry for potential bone marrow donors after struggling through his own quest for a match.

"It's stories like those that remind me of the fact that every single person can have an impact," he said.

Contact Sara Tracey:



If you go:

J.R. Martinez will speak 8 p.m. Thursday at Harrah's Resort Casino. Tickets

are $24.99 and available at Ticketmaster.com. For more information, call 609-441-5000 or visit

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