Paige VanZant Explains Why She Returned To Her Oregon Hometown 8 Years After Bullying Drove Her Family Away

Paige VanZant has opened up about the brutal bullying that caused her entire family to move away from Dayton, Oregon, when she was in high school, and now she’s explaining what motivated her to return to the site of her teenage trauma. In an interview with People, Paige said she wanted to use her platform on Dancing with the Stars as a way to inspire others, and what better way to start than to return to the town where her own problems started?

“I recently got asked to go back to the town and speak at a school my aunt teaches at,” VanZant told People. “I’ve been wanting to speak to students for a long time now but I just wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. So what a better place to start than the town where I had my own problems.”

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Paige revealed that she doesn’t usually show her emotions and will “cry alone in my room instead.” But last week on Dancing with the Stars, Paige revealed that she was called names in high school and had trash thrown at her as she walked down the hallway. Paige’s father, Steve VanZant, finally moved the entire family to Reno, Nevada, so Paige could get a fresh start. Steve VanZant and his wife had lived in the small Oregon town their entire lives, so it was a major move for everyone.

While Paige VanZant when on to become a UFC fighter, she feels that bullying today is even worse than it was when she was in high school eight years ago.

“It happens to everybody, but with social media I feel like it can be even worse now,” Paige said. “You can’t change everyone. There’s going to be mean people out there. But no matter what you’re going through, there is a brighter future and the hurt and pain you’re feeling is real but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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Paige VanZant and her partner, Mark Ballas, received a perfect score for their freestyle that was inspired by her battle against bullying. The duo danced to the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and VanZant said she could really relate to the song.

“I’ve used this as a platform to inspire people,” Paige said. “Just like in the song, I’m somewhere over the rainbow. I went through it and I’ve come out the other side.”

Paige VanZant only recently opened up about the bullying she endured in high school. In her UFC bio, VanZant touches on her painful high school years but does not go into detail, simply saying, “It wasn’t fun.”

But last week on Dancing with the Stars, Paige VanZant revealed that a group of older girls at her Oregon high school didn’t like the fact that she made the cheerleading squad as a freshman, and that’s when the bullying began. VanZant was targeted by a group of girls whose mission in life was to make her miserable. At the time, Paige was one of the smallest girls in the school. The VanZant family moved from Oregon to Nevada after Paige’s freshman year.

In an interview with Reno Gazette-Journal, Paige said she didn’t initially get into MMA fighting as a way to combat her tormentors, but in the long run, it has all come full circle.

“At first, I didn’t think there was a correlation, but now I look back at the bullying as one of the reasons I did like fighting,” VanZant said. “If that happens again, I can defend myself. I guess I have to thank the people who did those things to me because without them I don’t think I would have become a fighter.”

You can see Paige VanZant’s moving Dancing With the Stars finale freestyle in the video below.

[Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Earl Enterprises]