During Monday night's premiere of Dancing with the Stars' 23rd season, two men, ages 25 and 59, ran onto the stage wearing anti-Lochte T-shirts to seemingly ruin the Olympic swimmer's shining moment before security tackled and escorted them out of the studio.
"[I've] slowly, slowly been able to breathe," Lochte toldEntertainment Tonight after the broadcast.
The two protesters, Sam Sotoodeh and Barzeen Soroudi, reportedly did not have valid tickets to the ABC show's taping. They were arrested and booked for trespassing, and are currently being held at Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown LA with bail set at $1,000 each.
"Honestly, it felt like someone just reached inside, took my heart out and tore it to shreds," Lochte, 32, said.
Sotoodeh and Soroudi told authorities they were protesting Lochte because of the scandal in Rio de Janeiro during the 2016 Summer Olympics in which the gold medalist fabricated a story about being robbed and held on gunpoint when, in actuality, he had vandalized a gas station's bathroom with the help of three swimming teammates, according to ABC News.
The two men reportedly claimed Lochte's lie endangered Americans.
"I was really hurt when I saw [the ambush], and I was in shock," Lochte continued in his interview with ET. "But I looked at Cheryl and she just smiled and said, 'You just did what you said you can't do. You danced in front of millions.' And I was like, 'You're right.'"
Lochte is currently serving a 10-month suspension from USA Swimming following the Rio scandal.
He joined the cast of Dancing with the Stars not only to try something new, but also to rehab his image and hopefully receive a second chance from America.
Although Lochte said the protesters initially tore his heart out, he's going to treat the incident like a very minor setback. He may even be more focused in the weeks ahead.
"You know what? I'm going to keep moving forward and put this behind me, and I'm going to better myself every day and just, you know, come here [to do] what I came to do and dance," Lochte explained. "I'm going to dance."
Burke also admitted to ET that she was "beyond proud" of her celebrity partner for the way he handled the difficult situation.
"It's insane," Burke, 32, insisted. "We've worked so hard and I just want Ryan to have a positive experience. This is what this show is all about."