J.R. Martinez J.R. Martinez

"I was just completely off-key tonight," J.R. Martinez said as he limped off the ballroom floor during Monday night's semi-finals on Dancing With the Stars.

The 28-year-old actor and Iraqi war veteran, who many thought was running away with the competition, was suddenly and very painfully hobbled Saturday by a sprained right ankle that twisted under him during rehearsals. "And it sucks because you let yourself down, you let your partner down."

On Monday afternoon, his pro partner, Karina Smirnoff, was so concerned that she tried talking Martinez into taking a cortisone shot after dress rehearsals. "I was trying to convince J.R., who does not like any kind of drugs," she said. "But he said no. And at that point, even if he did get the medicine, it would've been too late for it to act."

You could tell Martinez was in a world of hurt. And it only got worse, because during his first dance Monday night, the intense paso doble, he twisted the same ankle again. His expression after that dance said it all: How am I going to keep it together? He knew he had two tough dances to go, including the Argentine Tango, which requires demanding lifts. "In the lifts, I had to support her weight and my weight as well," said Martinez. "That was tough." 

You could read the concern on host Tom Bergeron's face, who, during the applause after each dance, quietly asked Martinez if he was all right. And it wasn't just the dancing that was wiping that winning smile off of Martinez's face. After each dance, he was forced to climb more than a dozen stairs to talk to co-host Brooke Burke Charvet in the skybox — not the kind of thing you want to do on a bad ankle. At one point he was hopping up the stairs on his left leg. "We needed an elevator tonight," said Smirnoff, laughing. "Yeah," added Martinez. "I wanted to tell Brooke, 'You come down here for once!'"

So how did he make it through the two-hour show? "Karina was taking care of me, icing me and telling me to get off my feet," Martinez said. Added Smirnoff, "All athletes go through this. I don't think I've had a season without a cortisone shot because you pull muscles, you strain muscles, you rip muscles. It's part of dancing."

Does Martinez still like his chances to win? "One thing about me?" he said. "I come back strong if given the opportunity."

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