It was an emotional night on Dancing with the Stars, but one of Monday’s most touching moments wasn’t broadcast during the live event.
In the moments before Bonner Bolton and his pro dancer partner Sharna Burgess took to the ballroom floor to perform a routine inspired by the day the bull rider broke his neck in a near-fatal riding accident, Burgess quietly held Bolton’s head in her hands and wiped away his tears as a video package about his injury aired on the big screen.
“I saw those tears streaming down his face. I let him know it was now about him and I,” Burgess told PEOPLE after Monday’s show. “I told him ‘I’ve got you and we’re gonna get through this together.’ I let him know that I was his teammate and I was right there for him.”
“It was tough having to rehash everything from a year ago to now,” Bolton, who was temporarily paralyzed from the neck down after the January 2016 accident, told reporters. “I’ve worked really hard to put it all behind me and to watch my dad cry on video, which I had no idea was going down tonight, that was rough.”
Burgess admits the entire week of rehearsal was emotional for the pair, whose chemistry has made headlines since their debut performance in March.
“It’s so fresh. It’s only a year ago. He’s working so hard to move his life forward and I’m standing in front of him saying, ‘Let’s make a dance about it!'” Burgess told reporters. “It’s not easy for him to go back there and talk about it, let alone trust me to tell it and know that I’m going to do a good job.”
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But Bolton is grateful for the chance to process his emotions about the injury.
“You can’t run from something like that or it will fester deep inside of you,” he said. “You just have to face it. That’s the only way to heal. The scars that don’t ever heal are the ones you hide from.”
Dancing with the Stars airs Monday (at 8 p.m. ET) on ABC.