No looking back for Paige Schwartzburg

June 11, 2019, 12:12 p.m. (ET)

Some people are hesitant to share their history, but long track speedskater Paige Schwartzburg wants people to know they don’t have to be defined by their stories.

Paige turns 29 in July and she’s skated with the national long track team since the 2014-15 season. The journey to this point in her career has been long, and she almost didn’t make it.

When she was 7 years old, her little brother suffered a severe brain injury and eventually had to relearn how to walk. He worked with Renee Hildebrand, a renowned inline and ice skating coach. One day while waiting in her office, Paige saw photos of speedskaters and thought she’d like to give it a try.

“I loved it from the moment I put on my skates,” she says. “I was a natural. I loved going fast. We’d crash and get road rash but it didn’t matter because you just know when you love something.”

She skated inline for several years, training with Joey Mantia, Brittany Bowe and Erin Jackson. She tried a few other sports, but nothing resonated with her like skating.

On her 14th birthday, Paige was one of the top skaters in her age group, setting junior records and competing at events around the country, when she attended the Nationals in Nebraska. It was her first event without her parents. She was hanging out with the older kids when alcohol was provided. She remembers drinking, but doesn’t remember much else.

“I woke up in the hospital. They were pumping my stomach because of all the alcohol. I knew I was in a huge amount of trouble. My parents were furious and they banned me from skating.”

Paige was devastated. “I literally thought my life was over. I remember crying and thinking there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do but skate.”

That event started a downward spiral of partying, drinking, smoking and drugs that led to Paige dropping out of high school, and finding trouble wherever she could. “I was 18 and there was a warrant out for my arrest. I spent 40 days in jail and it straightened me out. I told myself I could never go back there again.”

It was Joey Mantia’s father, Joe, who convinced her to come work for him at the gym he managed. Paige had been smoking a pack a day for years, and hadn’t exercised for as long as she could remember, but she gave it a shot and felt her energy return.

One day, Brittany told Paige she was leaving Florida to try the inline-to-ice speedskating program at the Utah Olympic Oval, with the hope of making the next Olympic team. It was Paige’s grandma, Diane Dodge, who suggested that Paige try that, too. The idea didn’t even appeal to her. She’d been out of skating for years and her body was in no shape for high-level training.

Her mom, Tracy Alderson, also thought the move would be a good one and Paige decided she’d give it a shot. “My mom and my grandma are my rocks. Everyone was 100 percent supportive. They wanted me to get out of Ocala and get out of trouble. I came to the Oval in 2010 and got my first equipment from Tom di Nardo before I even got an apartment.”

Paige worked hard, retraining muscles she hadn’t used for a long time. She worked with the Learn to Skate program, the FAST program and started working with Olympian Derek Parra who bumped her training up to the next level, allowing her to make the national team.

“Training on ice was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. If you don’t have the technical aspect down, it just doesn’t work. I’ve had more failures than I can count, but you learn from your failures because it will teach you something. It’s the experience that shapes you.”

Building a healthy mindset has helped Paige stop the negative self-talk and the self-defeating behaviors that slowed her progress in the past. She’s training with the national short track team this summer to work on her skating skills and she can already feel it’s making a difference. She might even transition from sprint events to middle- and long-distance competitions, and will compete in the mass start this year.

An avid animal lover, Paige looks for opportunities to work with organizations to prevent animal cruelty. She owns a Russian Blue cat, Honey Bear, who is her best friend and travel companion. Always a fan of Alice in Wonderland, Paige adds curiosity and creativity to her life through photography, music, adventure and self-discovery.

Looking back over her mistakes and poor choices, Paige said she wouldn’t change it, even if she could. One phrase she repeats to herself is, "We all search for ourselves but deep down we know exactly who we are, we just have to allow ourselves to be that person."

“Those experiences made me who I am,” she says. “I came from jail and here I am on the national team. I feel myself getting stronger. I’ve traveled the world for competitions. I never thought I’d be here.”