Paige VanZant has opened up about a horrific bout of bullying she endured when she was in high school. The 22-year-old Dancing with the Stars finalist talked about her real-life heartbreak ahead of her highly personal Argentine tango with partner Mark Ballas on Monday, which ultimately earned the duo a near-perfect score and secured them as the DWTS Season 22 front-runners.
Ahead of her dance, Paige explained that after she made her school’s varsity cheerleading team when she was a freshman, she was severely bullied by older girls who had not made the team. VanZant said the bullies threw trash at her and called her names as she walked down the school hallways, and she admitted that at one point some very dark thoughts crossed her mind.
“It was the darkest, hardest time of my entire life,” Paige said.
Paige’s father, Steve VanZant, eventually moved the entire family from small town Oregon, where he and his wife had lived their entire lives, to Reno, Nevada, so that his daughter could start fresh at a new school. Paige credits her dad for saving her.
In an interview with People, Paige VanZant revealed that the DWTS interview was the first time she had really gone into detail about her high school trauma.
“I feel like it was an important moment for myself because I’ve never opened up about it,” Paige said. “I’ve never told anyone about what happened to me, and it was really a big step for me.”
VanZant revealed that she opened up about her personal bullying story on national TV in the hopes that “some people connect to my story and it will help them.”
Paige VanZant has talked about her experiences bullying before, but not in nearly as much detail. In a previous interview posted by USA Today Sports, Paige VanZant said she was bullied in high school because of her looks. She also revealed that she graduated early, at age 16, and went right to college so she could get away from all of the high school girl drama.
Paige VanZant went on to become a champion UFC fighter and proved that she’s more than just a pretty face. Today, VanZant says she wants to be someone who victims of bullying could look up to.
“You don’t have to play the victim, you can be a survivor,” Paige told USA Today.
Paige VanZant is long past her bullied past, but the memories of the traumatic experience are still painfully fresh. In her UFC bio, Paige declines to elaborate on her painful high school years, simply saying, “It wasn’t fun.”
VanZant also revealed that while she didn’t necessarily get into mixed martial arts to defend herself, it did give her something that she needed.
“I didn’t get into MMA to be able to fight back, but I do have a lot more confidence now to know that I can,” Paige said.
Paige VanZant hasn’t had to deal with bullying as a UFC fighter, but she recently dealt with the wrath of fellow MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, who reportedly cussed her out for congratulating rival Holly Holm after her win.
In a statement to TMZ, Paige said she was shocked by Rousey’s reaction.
“It appears that I offended Ronda by congratulating Holly after her victory,” VanZant said. “The incident was very shocking and totally unnecessary.”
Take a look at the video below to see Paige VanZant talking about her struggles with bullying on Dancing with the Stars.
[Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Earl Enterprises]