Not even two months ago, he was a relative unknown to most Americans. But these days, the name J.R. Martinez evokes smiles, namely from the millions of Dancing with the Stars fans who have fallen in love with the Iraq-War-hero-turned-golden-boy of the ballroom.
“I’m being blessed in so many ways, and it’s because of the energy I’m putting out in the world,” says the former All My Children actor, who survived a 2003 explosion while a soldier serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq.
For its latest cover story, Martinez, 28, tells PEOPLE that he considers himself blessed to have experienced the trauma. If not for the Humvee he was driving hitting a land mine, “My life would not be what it is today: full of joy, happiness and positivity,” he says.
Since the explosion, which burned 40 percent of his body and required a grueling 34-month treatment, Martinez embraces life and all it has to offer – including a solid shot at taking home Dancing‘s coveted mirror ball trophy this season with partner Karina Smirnoff.
“When you show people who you really are and you’re genuine, you don’t have to force positivity,” says Martinez, who is confident with the man he’s become. “I’m not your typical person walking down the street. I’m cool with being different.”
For the full story of Martinez’s remarkable journey from the battlefield to the ballroom, pick up the Nov. 7 issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday