J.R. Martinez on His Daughter: "I Never Want to Let Her Down" (EXCLUSIVE)

J.R. Martinez at the ESPN Magazine NEXT event
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J.R. Martinez, 29, may be known as an actor, army veteran, radio host, and motivational speaker, but now he’s adding published author to his impressive resume. His new memoir, Full of Heart: My Story of Survival, Strength and Spirit, made the New York Times Best Sellers List and digs deep into his story about facing adversity while moving forward with grace. We spoke to the talented star about what he hopes fans take away from his book, his love for his mother, how fatherhood has changed him, and more.

What inspired you to share your life story in Full of Heart?

I wanted to provide the full story for my fans and people who have followed my journey throughout the years. I have gone through a lot of pain in my life, obviously because of the military experience that I had, however I want people to understand that there’s more to my life. I experienced many moments in my life, besides my injury in Iraq, which has shaped the man I am today.

What was the most challenging part about writing this book?

Honestly, the difficult part about writing a memoir is to try and make everyone happy. You carefully want to portray every person that has been in your life in a positive light. It’s difficult because people don’t ask to be a part of your life, but here you are writing about them and publicizing certain private moments. Also, I was forced to relive a lot of those painful memories in my life. People notice when you are not being sincere, so I wanted to make sure to be as real as possible.

You mention how important your mom is in the book and say that she considers you “her pastor, mentor, and entertainer.” What life lessons has your mother taught you?

My mother is very important in my life. I get my strength, dedication, and confidence from her – she’s the core of all of that. She has always taught me that even if you’re going through pain and struggle, it’s important to smile. She has taught by example and makes sure to smile in the face of all of her scars and wounds in her life. She lost a child, never got to see her before she passed, and left another daughter in El Salvador. She has searched for a better life here, but that has come with a lot of pain and struggle. She was a single mom, learning a new language, and dealing with gaining her citizenship. Despite all of it, she has persevered and moved forward. Those are all lessons I hold close to my heart.

What message do you hope fans take away from this memoir?

That life is unpredictable. You can sit there and have plans and goals for yourself, but it’s not always going to happen that way. Despite that, you can still have hope and move forward in life. I hope people are inspired by my story.

You welcomed your daughter Lauren Annabelle last year. You never got a chance to meet your biological father. Does that impact the way you see fatherhood now?

Yes, absolutely. I tell people even though my father was not in my life, he still taught me what not to do. Although I have an amazing mother, not having my dad around growing up definitely had its difficulties. For me, it’s important for me to not do what he did and be the best father.

One of the things that I do right and I want to continue to do right is be an amazing father to my daughter. I want to be someone that she can look at and be proud of. I never want to let her down. It’s a huge responsibility – more than just providing, I want to lead by example and do the right thing.

What gives you the most pride about being Latino?

Everything! When I was younger, my mom would watch Univision and during commercials they would highlight an individual and then say, 'so and so is an orgullo Hispano.’ I remember telling my mom, ‘I want to be that person.’ She told me, ‘You will be.’ I’ll never forget that. I’m proud of those roots and how much we push forward and support each other as a community.

What's next for you?

I’m still speaking and traveling for my book, but I’m looking for more acting opportunities. I want to get back into the entertainment side of things. I’m working on a possible deal right now on a show. I want to show people that there are more levels to me. I’m just open to anything and I want to do something different.

His book Full of Heart: My Story of Survival, Strength and Spirit is available on Amazon.com and in stores now.