“Last week I wanted to quit the show,” Lochte revealed to PEOPLE backstage after Monday night’s episode of DWTS. “I was like, ‘The Dancing with the Stars show doesn’t deserve this.’ I was really down on myself. But DWTS came together as a family and they really supported me and gave me that positive influence that kept me going back to rehearsal and staying on the show. I really owe it all to them.”
Lochte was well aware of his critics following his Rio robbery scandal in August, but experiencing the tension in person was a new experience for the Olympian.
“That was really shocking for me,” he told reporters. “But they aren’t going to keep me down. No one will. The only one who is going to keep me down is myself.”
And so Lochte stepped out on the DWTS ballroom floor Monday night with a smile and performed a quickstep to the theme from The Muppet Show.
“If I stay positive and I keep moving forward, hopefully they’ll keep seeing that and seeing how I want to become better and I want to change and how they aren’t going to break me down. They won’t,” he said. “I’m just going to stay positive and keep going.”
In addition to relying on his pro dancer partner, Cheryl Burke, Lochte says he’s been grateful for the support he’s received from his mother and girlfriend.
“Especially my girlfriend, because I’m living with her now,” Lochte said of Playmate Kayla Reid. “She’s definitely just been so supportive. And my mom is calling me non-stop. I’m like, ‘Mom, stop calling me! I’m okay. I’m okay.’ She’s like, ‘I’m just making sure you’re okay!’ ”
“The love that they’re showing has definitely really helped,” he continued. “I’m not the one to quit so I’m not going to quit. I’m going to keep my head up and keep going.”
The first DWTS elimination of season 23 will take place Tuesday night on ABC.