Paige VanZant has faced plenty of tough battles in the cage as an MMA fighter, but likely none tougher than a horrendous experience in high school and the aftermath that came with it.
In her new book, Rise: Surviving the Fight of My Life, the 24-year-old opened up about being gang-raped when she was 14 years old.
She described the rape in graphic detail, writing that she was influenced to drink alcohol by a few boys at her school, who she says later raped her.
"They move me around," VanZant wrote in her book. "They change my position. I fail each time I try to resist, my limbs like wet cement on my body, my brain a heavy fog. I am awake and conscious, but my body feels dead. I know what is happening but can do nothing to stop it. I have no voice or choice but to submit and pray that it ends soon."
VanZant, who did not reveal if her alleged rapists were charged, told the Chicago Tribune that the bullying that came in the wake of the rape was "almost the worst part for me."
The Dancing With The Stars alum, who was born Paige Sletten, said her classmates called her "Paige Slutton." She legally changed her surname to VanZant to get away from the connotation and what it forced her to think of every time she was called it. Once, she came home and found condoms hung from the trees around her house "like Christmas ornaments."
"The bullying was almost the worst part for me. Not having people be there for me, or almost feeling ostracized by women. They almost made it that much worse, and it made me feel that much more alone through everything," VanZant told the Chicago Tribune.
"A huge reason I'm getting the book out is because I want to be an advocate for anti-bullying, I want to be an advocate," she told MMA Fighting. "That's the main wave I want to start from this. The hardest thing for me was the bullies. That just really sunk me even lower, that no one was even there for me."
She's hoping that having her experience out in the open is a "transparent" way to help others. She wrote in the book that she has already met girls who were assault victims who reached out to her through social media. VanZant said she wants to show people that they can come back and persevere from seemingly impossible situations they experienced in their youth the way she did.
"It almost makes it feel like everything I went through was worth it," VanZant told MMA Fighting. "Like I went through it for a purpose. Once this book comes out, if it changes someone's life, then what I went through wasn't meaningless, it wasn't something terrible. It wasn't a tragedy. It was something beautiful and it's gonna be good and it's gonna help people."
The UFC fighter also wants her story to serve as a lesson to young people — especially young women — to stand up for each other.
"I hope that the book definitely reminds girls we need to be there for each other and stand up for each other. That it teaches them empathy to (other) children and youth, that they don't realize how somebody could be struggling and what somebody is going through and what war and battle they're facing," she told the Tribune.
VanZant revealed that during sensitive parts of the book she spoke to a ghostwriter, who took down her account of things, "just so I got to say it one time."
"Just so I got to say it one time — I said exactly what I wanted to say to a person, they wrote it down and then I never had to look at it again," VanZant said. "So, it was me voicing everything that happened and I just got it out in the open and I never had to look at it again. It was one of those things where I tell the story and move on."
VanZant previously opened up on DWTS, where she placed second with pro Mark Ballas, about being bullied in high school and said being asked about it so much played a role in her opening up about the rape.
"I guess being on Dancing With the Stars and being on all these shows and I kept being asked about it, I guess it was time to just be very transparent. If I was gonna say anything and be open about it, the best way to do it is to write it down in a book and let people read it. So it doesn't necessarily have to come out of my mouth, but people get to hear my story," she said.
VanZant also told the Tribune that she sincerely enjoyed her time on the dancing competition and would gladly return.0comments
"I loved every second of it and I would love to be a part of Dancing With the Stars in the future again if that opportunity ever came up. It was definitely a positive experience for me," she said.
Photo credit: Instagram / @paigevanzantufc