The swimmer got engaged on Sunday

By Patrick Gomez
Updated October 11, 2016 09:09 AM

Ryan Lochte was so eager to propose to girlfriend Kayla Rae Reid, he left Dancing with the Stars early on Sunday so he could get home to prepare to pop the question.

“I knew the dance and we nailed it the night before, so we kind of cut rehearsal a little short yesterday because I couldn’t really focus. I couldn’t concentrate,” the Olympian told PEOPLE backstage after Monday’s DWTS. “[My partner Cheryl Burke] was like, ‘Well, you have it down. There’s not more I can teach you. You just have to own it and do it tomorrow.’ And I was, like, ‘Alright! Good! I gotta get out of here. I’ve got to prepare myself.”

Practice at home went well, but the actual proposal … not so much.

“I practiced it so many times in my bathroom. I had my suit and my jacket on and I was pulling the ring out and getting down and the words and everything was perfect but when it actually happened, I couldn’t get the ring out of my pocket and then I was stumbling on all the words and clammy,” Lochte told reporters of taking Reid on a helicopter ride over Los Angeles before proposing during a hilltop picnic high above Malibu. “I finally got the courage to say, ‘Will you marry me?’ And she said yes and then I was, like, ‘Yes! My life is complete.’ ”

Though they haven’t been together long, Lochte says he and his Playboy model fiancé have already proven they have what it takes to have a lasting marriage.

“Normally a married couple would go through what we went through over 20 years, but we’ve done it in, like, a year. She stuck behind me this whole entire time when I was at my darkest point,” Lochte said, referencing his Rio Olympics scandal. “She was my rock. That’s when I knew, ‘I’m not letting this one go.’ ”

ryan lochte
Ryan Lochte Engagement
| Credit: Ryan Lochte/Instagram

Lochte says he is eager to participate in choosing “the flowers and everything” but doesn’t think the couple will walk down the aisle until next fall.

“I just want my family and closest friends there and she wants the exact same thing, so we might keep the wedding small. But the party afterward is going to be big,” said Lochte, who can’t help but beam when thinking about the big day. “I’m just so excited! I couldn’t be happier. I have a fiancé! I’m on cloud nine. I’m loving it!”

Dancing with the Stars airs Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.