Photo by: Thi Linh Wernau



Having faced adversity, Manny Gonzalez faces challenges head-on.  He dedicates his life to sharing what he has learned, helping others succeed in overcoming their adversity and empowering them to live life to the fullest. 

Manny, a retired US Marine, has overcome physical and mental challenges in his life.  He suffered career-ending injuries in 1996 when a brush fire started while his unit was conducting combat exercises.  As Manny grabbed his gear to escape the flames, he saw a Marine on the ground at the base of the hill where they were training.   Without concern for his own safety, he ran back.   After assisting the fellow Marine to his feet, Manny realized they were trapped by a wall of fire.   After an unsuccessful attempt to climb to safety, the only option for survival was to go through the wall of flames.

Manny’s actions that day changed his life forever.

He was airlifted to the University of California in the San Diego Burn Center. He sustained 2nd and 3rd degree burns over approximately 80% of his body.   The doctors gave him a 1% chance of survival.  Unbeknownst to Manny, he began the fight for his life. Spending the first month and a half in a drug-induced coma, he underwent multiple surgeries.  In total, Manny spent approximately four months in the hospital, followed by a year of outpatient therapy. 

During that time, he returned to his family in Chicago. Manny was medically retired from the Marine Corps in 1998, due to the severity of his injuries.

Manny supports burn survivors and Veterans by volunteering through various organizations.  He has served as a counselor at the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance’s children’s burn camp, Camp “I Am Me”, and the National Spokesperson for Burn Survivors for the Wish Upon a Hero Foundation.  Manny is active with the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, as a peer supporter and as an instructor for the SOAR Program.  He currently serves on the Illinois Secretary of State’s Veterans Advisory Council.  He works for the US Department of Veterans Affairs as a Patient Advocate at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, giving a voice to those who need help being heard. 

Manny’s story of triumphing over adversity empowers those who hear his message to overcome obstacles, look for the positives in change, and to live life to its fullest.



Miltary Associations


Behavioral Healthcare

Law Enforcement

First Responder

University / College / High School

Nonprofit Organizations



I had the pleasure to attend a Phoenix Society World Burn Congress a few years ago where Manny Gonzalez was a speaker. His personality and enthusiasm captivated an audience of approximately five hundred people from the start of his talk to the end. I truly felt the reason why he showed exceptional confidence is because he spoke from his heart. While his life tragedy has had a significant impact on his life he was and is a great source of inspiration to others. I wanted to shake his hand afterwards to personally thank him for serving our country and for his powerful message but there were many people he so graciously stopped to speak with; my schedule didn't allow the wait. I would recommend Manny as a speaker to any organization with an audience ready to be inspired.
David Schury, Founder/ President
From Tragedy to Triumph Foundation
Having Manny Gonzalez speak at our event was a true pleasure. Manny's story is truly inspiring. He was able to effectively communicate in a way that inspired those who were in attendance at our event, and furthered our cause, raising money for Phoenix Society so that other burn survivors can get the help they need. Manny would be an asset as a speaker to any event.
Brien Dews, Co-Founder
Buses by the Beach
The power of Manny Gonzalez’s message has a universal application of survival to thriving from a life changing burn trauma. Manny is dynamic and energetic in sharing his message that is appropriate for all audiences. His military service is weaved throughout his story which brings a unique angle to overcoming adversity. Manny will successfully consider and adapt to your organization’s specific meeting objectives.
Amy Acton, Executive Director
Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors
Manny spoke at the opening reception of my photography art exhibition, "You. Are. Beautiful. - A Tribute to Warriors." He was one of the wounded veterans I photographed in my series. Manny is an inspiring motivational speaker. He speaks from the heart with sincerity, authenticity, humor and conviction. He has been through intense physical and emotional trials in his life and has overcome them with an amazing level of grace and positivity. I am in awe of the person he is, and I am confident he will move any audience to think, feel and do something. Manny is an excellent communicator and has a positive energy and light about him. Please do not miss the opportunity to have Manny speak to your audience. You will not be disappointed.
Thi Linh Wernau, Artist and Filmmaker


Interested in Manny for your next event?