"One day it was unbearable; it was shooting up my leg," NFL Legend Ray Lewis told PEOPLE, of his foot injury

By Christina Dugan and Eric Todisco
October 01, 2019 09:21 AM
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Ray Lewis and his Dancing with the Stars pro partner Cheryl Burke are opening up about the injury that forced them to withdraw from the competition.

The NFL legend, 44, announced on Monday’s episode that he and Burke, 35, were leaving the show after he tore three tendons while practicing the cha-cha.

After the episode, Lewis told PEOPLE in a joint interview with Burke that he first “noticed a lot of little changes” with his foot after week one of the competition.

“I would just look at her and say ‘something’s off,’ ” Lewis said. “I’d look at her and say ‘Something’s off. I don’t know what but something’s off.’ We just kept pushing through. ‘I‘m good, then week two I’m going to start icing.’ ”

“I’d see Ray with his foot in a garbage can full of ice,” added Burke.

“She’d say ‘What’s your foot doing in a garbage pail of ice?’ ” Lewis recalled. “One day it was unbearable; it was shooting up my leg. I’ve lived with pain, but something’s wrong. I went and saw the doctor and had an MRI. I’m like ‘Okay, go fix this.’ ”

Ray Lewis
Justin Stephens/ABC

Despite the injury taking the him out of the competition, Lewis — who was saved from eliminated by the judges last week — said there is a “silver lining” in now needing surgery.

“The silver lining in all this, it’s been eight years and I’d decided to leave it alone,” he said. “Now, I’ve seen a doctor who can actually fix my toe, I’m really super excited; he’s not going to fix just one, but all three toes.”

Burke explained that Lewis did not reveal his foot issues to her until after she dealt with an injury of her own during rehearsals.

“Because he’s a football player, he never said anything to me about the injury until I actually thought that I might have a minor tear in my rotator cuff. Then he was like ‘I have something to tell you,’ but he wanted to say it off camera. He didn’t want to seem like he was complaining,” Burke recalled.

Ray and Cheryl
Eric McCandless via Getty

The pro dancer added that his was not the first time that one of her partners on the ABC competition series was injured.

“I’ve been on for 22 seasons so I think everything that you could possibly imagine has happened to me,” Burke said. “Wayne Newton had to bow out around this time actually. Tom Delay fractured both his feet — I didn’t — he had to bow out and now this. It happens. It just sad…it’s too soon. It’s been a while since this has happened.”

Reflecting on his short time on DWTS during Monday’s show, Lewis said that he’s “had some of the best experiences of my life on this show. I’ve met an entirely new family and I have experienced what I’ve always wanted to experience: what dancing on the stage, what Dancing with the Stars felt like.”

“It was absolutely incredible. I’ll never forget this,” he said.

Although the former pro athlete couldn’t compete because of his injury, a familiar face stepped in to dance the cha-cha with Burke: NFL star and DWTS season 24 Mirrorball Trophy champion Rashad Jennings!

Rashad Jennings
David Livingston/Getty

Lewis is the second celebrity contestant to withdraw from season 28 due to an injury.

Ahead of the show’s premiere on Sept. 16, ABC announced that Christie Brinkley‘s youngest daughter Sailor would be taking her place on the popular dancing competition after Christie fell and broke her arm during rehearsals days prior.

Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.