It’s been almost year since Danelle Umstead was voted off season 27 of Dancing With the Stars, but the inspiring Paralympian is still reeling from the heartbreak. While chatting exclusively with Closer Weekly, Danelle opened up about her incredible journey on the beloved reality TV competition and revealed how she overcame the devastating loss.

“It took time. I’m not going to lie, it took me some time. I had to process for quite some time,” the 47-year-old —who competed as the dancing competition’s first-ever blind contestant alongside professional dancer Artem Chigvintsev in the fall 2018 season — candidly admitted. “I don’t know if I’m still completely over it. I think they need to bring me back and let me finish what I started!”

Last season, Danelle and Artem were voted off the second week after host Tom Bergeron and judges revealed the phone votes would not be considered. The 53-time world cup medalist, who was diagnosed with an inherited retinal disease (IRD) at 13 after being blind since a young age and suffers from multiple sclerosis, admitted that she was crushed.

“Artem and I were like, ‘Huh?'” the slalom expert recalled, adding that fans even reached out to her via social media to express their heartbreak. “So many people were like, ‘I’m so sorry I didn’t vote online.'” She even wondered if her time on DWTS would be different had the phone votes counted.

Canada Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games - Mar 2010
Bonny Makarewicz/EPA/Shutterstock

“It just felt so unfair, I didn’t finish and I didn’t have the ability to have closure. It really was [stolen from me],” she explained. “Artem was heartbroken and the poor guy had to wipe my tears for like 24 hours and try to be by my side. He’s like, ‘Danelle, it’s going to be OK.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know how to deal with this.'”

The proud mom of one, who shares her 12-year-old son Brocton with longtime husband and ski guide Rob Umstead, added that being a fan of the show made the loss even harder to process. “I know it’s [just] TV and I know all of those things, but I just watched the show since 2007,” the three-time bronze medalist explained, adding, “I knew the show, and I was like, ‘I don’t remember this ever happening to anybody else.’ I felt robbed.”

Although the DWTS loss was a hard pill to swallow, Danelle passionately gushed that the journey made her so much stronger. “It taught me to be vulnerable in a way that I have never been vulnerable. I danced in front of millions of people on television blind, for the first time. I was the first blind contestant on DWTS,” she proudly beamed. “This allowed me to be a voice … and it’s allowed me to open up myself to writing a book and being even more vulnerable.”

Nowadays, she is also using her platform to be a light for others, especially when it comes to understanding IRDs and how vision loss or blindness can be caused by an inherited gene mutation. “I’m empowered, I’m a strong woman. I want to share my story to help others and I want to share this message,” Danelle, who gets by with a little help from her beloved seeing eye dog, Aziza, noted. “I want to empower others just like I’ve been empowered from the stuff I have.”

If you want to learn more about IRDs and how to better understand how rare eye disorders can be caused by an inherited gene mutation, Danelle wants you to visit EyeWantToKnow.