PEOPLE caught up with the Olympic swimmer after his elimination from the ABC dance competition Monday night, and the recently-engaged star opened up about his upcoming nuptials to his Playboy model fiancée Kayla Rae Reid.
“Now that the show is over for me I can sit down, take a deep breath and start thinking about the wedding,” Lochte, 32, told PEOPLE. “That’s what we’re going to be doing for the next nine months, 10 months, or however long until our wedding date.”
Of being voted off DWTS, Lochte said he “knew it was going to happen eventually,” but maintained he doesn’t have any regrets.
“The people, the friendships that I’ve made here — we’re pretty much a second family now,” he said. “Now I’m saying goodbye, it’s sad. I’ll be back in two weeks for the finale, though, so I can’t say all my goodbyes yet.”
And he’s learned plenty about himself from the experience, too.
“No matter how hard people knock me down, I can still get up and keep fighting no matter what,” he said. “Just keep moving forward and staying positive.”
Lochte said he hopes America saw a different side of him, something his pro partner Cheryl Burke agrees with wholeheartedly.
“Just getting to know him [has been my favorite part,]” she told PEOPLE. “Showing America that he’s just a normal guy. I guess [it] stops people from judging when you don’t really know somebody. Ryan is really down to earth, humble — he’s just a normal dude. If I had a brother, I would compare him to that.”
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.