After contemplating suicide, Paige VanZant says 'MMA fighting saved my life'

PHOTO: Paige Vanzant attends the Rachele Royale Single and Music Video Release for "Circus Life" at Cinematic Pictures Gallery, Jan. 13, 2017 in Hollywood, Calif.PlayDesiree Stone/Getty Images
WATCH Paige VanZant says 'MMA fighting saved my life'

Mixed martial arts superstar Paige VanZant said that she was bullied and sexually assaulted in high school, and even contemplated suicide during some of her darkest moments, but that she believes "fighting saved my life."

Becoming one of the most successful rookies in UFC history was an uphill battle for VanZant, 24, who reflected on her journey in her new memoir, "Rise," and in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Kayna Whitworth.

PHOTO: Paige VanZant attends Jeremy Scott fashion show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at The Arc, Skylight at Moynihan Station, Sept. 12, 2016 in New York City.Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images/Getty Images
Paige VanZant attends Jeremy Scott fashion show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at The Arc, Skylight at Moynihan Station, Sept. 12, 2016 in New York City.

The "Dancing With the Stars" season 22 fan-favorite said that she was bullied throughout high school, and would even eat her lunch alone in a bathroom stall at times.

"I didn't have anywhere to run to, I didn't have anybody to turn to," VanZant told ABC News.

"[It was] bad enough that I had to run into the bathroom, and I'd eat my lunch on the toilet ... because I just felt too scared to eat lunch in the cafeteria."

VanZant also said that she was sexually assaulted at a party when she was just 14 years old.

"I felt like I was a smart girl, my parents raised me well, they raised me to know better and to have some intuition," VanZant said. "It all went out the window just because I was so lonely, I was in so much pain I just ... all I could think about was, 'Wow, I have somebody who wants to be my friend.'"

PHOTO: Paige VanZant poses during the weigh-in for a UFC Fight Night event, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Aug. 26, 2016.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, FILE
Paige VanZant poses during the weigh-in for a UFC Fight Night event, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Aug. 26, 2016.

VanZant said she immediately knew she "probably shouldn't be here," when she arrived at the party.

"When I walked in the door of their house I was like ... this probably isn't such a good idea," she said.

She said the events of that night "changed" her, and that she became "a totally different person" after the alleged assault.

VanZant said some of her classmates also found out about what happened, and the bullying only worsened. She said she was left feeling completely isolated, and in her darkest moments, even contemplated suicide.

"I didn't see any other way out," she told ABC News.

"When you're in that position, when you're feeling that much pain," she added, "it's not that you want to die. You just don't want to be in pain anymore."

She said she only recently opened up to her parents about what had happened.

"I didn't want to disappoint them and I didn't want them to be mad at me," she said. "And I feel like once I told my parents then it would have been real."

VanZant said that finding her passion as a mixed martial artist helped her to recover and thrive.

"MMA fighting saved my life," she said. "It saved who I was as a person too."

At just 20 years old, VanZant won her first UFC fight.

Now, bolstered by the scores of women speaking out with the "Me Too" and "Time's Up" movements, VanZant said she feels encouraged to share her own story, and she hopes that doing so may encourage others who have gone through something similar.

She said she especially looks up to Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, who publicly spoke out about her own alleged sexual abuse last year, accusing disgraced former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of misconduct.

"That's what I needed to actually move forward with my book," VanZant said of hearing Raisman's story. "I really hope that if I can change one life, then me telling my story is worth it."

PHOTO: Paige Vanzant attends the Rachele Royale Single and Music Video Release for Circus Life at Cinematic Pictures Gallery, Jan. 13, 2017 in Hollywood, Calif.Desiree Stone/Getty Images
Paige Vanzant attends the Rachele Royale Single and Music Video Release for "Circus Life" at Cinematic Pictures Gallery, Jan. 13, 2017 in Hollywood, Calif.

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