While he has been waltzing right over the competition on this season of ABC’s hit competitive dance show, “Dancing With the Stars,” J.R. Martinez hasn’t always been so confident, especially about his appearance.
When he was just 19 years old, Martinez was serving as an Army infantryman in Iraq when an IED slammed into his Humvee and exploded. Martinez was saved and flown out to Germany for treatment, but suffered severe burns on 40 percent of his body, including his face and hands.
After undergoing dozens of surgeries and therapy, the teenage Martinez was covered in scars, and struggled to deal with how the blast had altered his body – half of his face was now covered in scars. Then in 2008, he landed a role as an Iraq war veteran on ABC’s hit soap opera, “All My Children,” where he met Diana Jones, an executive assistant on staff.
In an exclusive interview with ABC’s Deborah Roberts for “ Nightline,” Martinez and Jones, his long-term girlfriend, talked about their relationship. The first time they met, Jones told Roberts that she wasn’t thrown off by Martinez’s scars.
“The minute I met him I didn’t see them,” Jones said. “I think it was I saw them on the audition tape, and then when we met it was like, I didn’t see them.”
The two had an instant connection working together on the show and became fast friends. They began talking regularly and going out together, then it started to change when Jones said she developed feelings for Martinez.
“I just have been looking for this great guy with these great qualities and he’s been right next to me the whole time,” she said.
Soon Martinez said noticed how much time they were spending together and also began having feelings for Jones. He even worked up the courage to confront her about it one night, but was nervous because he was still insecure about his looks at the time.
“I think I had that concern when it came to any girl that I would be dating after my injury,” he told Roberts. “The first time that you kiss a girl with your scars or your burns — is she going to be disgusted by the first time you expose your burns on your body? Are they not going to come back the following day are they not gonna call you again?”
At first, Martinez said Jones didn’t want to date him because she was afraid it would mess with their friendship and because they still worked together, but he pursued her and she eventually gave in. The two have been dating for the past two years.
“I see a hot sexy guy, I mean I’ve very attracted, he’s very attractive and I mean I love him, that’s who I see, I see a great guy and I see the man that I love,” she said.
“I have to say, knowing her for two years and knowing the person that she is, I knew she looked at me in a different way but she looked at me on a deeper level, not just my scars,” Martinez said. “She’s definitely my number one fan, outside of my mother … she always kind of reminds me, that ‘you have the ability.’ She always kind of tells me that ‘you’re one of the few people I know that when you put your mind to something, I really believe that you can do it.’”
Check back with ABCNews.com TOMORROW to read more about Martinez, including what he remembers about getting injured in Iraq, and then tune into “ Nightline“ TOMORROW at 11:35 p.m. ET to watch the full story.