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Paige VanZant opens up for the first time about being raped in new book

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Paige VanZant
Paige VanZant
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Paige VanZant fans will get new, emotional insights into her youth, life and ability to overcome adversity in her new book.

The UFC women’s flyweight fighter writes in harrowing detail about being the victim of rape in high school, the subsequent bullying and abusive relationships in “Rise: Surviving the Fight of My Life,” which comes out Tuesday.

VanZant told MMA Fighting in a phone interview Monday that she wanted to open up for multiple reasons, especially the fact that she can be an advocate for those who have been the victims of sexual assault and bullying like she was. Writing a book, VanZant said, was the preferable method — so she could do it in her own words.

“I had written stuff in high school, and I had written things here and there,” she said. “It got to the point where it was like, you know, it’s time for me to share it. 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.”

VanZant, 24, went into some graphic details about being attacked. While in high school in her native Oregon, she wrote that boys got her drunk at a party and several of them raped her when she could not defend herself.

“They move me around,” VanZant wrote. 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 said during the sensitive parts of the book she spoke to a ghost writer, who took down her account of things. That was by design.

“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.”

While this might seem like VanZant’s “Me Too” moment, “Rise” was actually in the works before the strong anti-sexual assault movement of the last year. VanZant said she was happy about the timing of things and looked to some celebrities, like gymnast Aly Raisman, to see how they carried themselves with strength while being open about being raped or assaulted.

“It was totally coincidental and I just couldn’t be more happy with the way it worked out,” VanZant said. “It’s like just so comforting that other people kind of took those steps almost before I did, because I’m not the first one. I’m not gonna be the first groundbreaking story. I get to kind of follow and learn from how they did it and see that if they did it, I can do it, too.”

The rape unfurled a horrible series of events for VanZant, who wrote about being mercilessly bullied by her fellow students when rumors spread that she had consensual sex with the boys, rather than that she was raped by them. Born as Paige Sletten, VanZant got called “Paige Slutton” by schoolmates, prompting her to change her name. Once, she came home and found condoms hung from the trees around her house “like Christmas ornaments,” she wrote.

“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,” said VanZant, who also wrote about an abusive relationship which led to her getting arrested for DUI. “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.”

With her experiences now out in the open, VanZant is very much hoping 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 in youth the way she did.

“It almost makes it feel like everything I went through was worth it,” VanZant said. “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.”

VanZant has a tour promoting the book this week in New York and then Chicago. She’s currently dealing with a broken arm she sustained during a fight with Jessica-Rose Clark at UFC St. Louis in January. VanZant said she got bad news recently that the arm is not healing. A timetable for a return is up in the air, she said. But VanZant vowed to be back before the end of the year.

“I hope so,” she said. “That won’t be too soon. I have to get in there before the end of the year. I will fight in 2018, I know that.”

In the meantime, she has plenty on her plate. VanZant said she expects the attention to come very fast this week and beyond as the book is released. For better or for worse.

“I get nervous for everything, but I’m especially nervous for this,” she said. “I think it’s just gonna be one of those moments I tell myself, I tell my family — everybody — let’s stay off social media, let’s just let it be out there for a few days and if I don’t pay attention to social media, it’s like it’s not even happening. I don’t have to know what’s happening, I don’t have to know if people like it or not, I just get to live life and know my story is out there.”

VanZant, though, says she is not the same girl who was terrified and mortified of telling her story years ago.

“It was definitely hard, but it has been 10 years,” VanZant said. “Now, with the position I’m in now, I’m much more confident and I’m moving forward and I’m so successful now it’s hard to look back and be sad.”

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