Catching Up With Payge McMahon

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“Don’t call it yoga,” Payge McMahon does a virtual hand slap and I apologize. She’s friendly about it and I start to get the point of DDPY, or DDP Yoga. The program’s tagline sometimes reads, “It ain’t your mama’s yoga,” after all.

It’s rare for my childhood love of pro wrestling to bridge to ultrarunning, but McMahon connects those dots, and she does it through DDP Yoga. The 46-year-old McMahon is a two-time survivor of a broken back and an endurance adventurer. She credits her ability to still travel long distances to yoga and is currently an instructor for DDP Yoga. The program is named for creator Diamond Dallas Page, a retired pro wrestler and McMahon’s boyfriend.

McMahon traces her path into adventure through a number of major life events. When she was 16, a car accident left her with a broken back for the first time. “I was a passenger in the back seat, a 1979 Bronco,” she recounted of the fateful trip to McDonald’s with friends. “He was goofing around, lost control, slammed into a ditch, and I flew forward. Crushed my T12 and L1 vertebrae, a burst compression fracture.” A broken back just sounds so all encompassing, but McMahon knows the spinal column and simplifies it, “It crushed down and jutted out. I lost a half an inch of height. It nearly paralyzed me.”

Payge McMahon - 2012 Grand to Grand stage race

Payge McMahon running the 2012 Grand to Grand stage race. All photos courtesy of Payge McMahon.

She recovered, still with pain, but her then-competitive softball career stopped and she followed a traditional path into corporate America, marrying at age 24. Things changed again when her mom, a non-smoker, died from lung cancer just after her own retirement. McMahon was 28. Two years after her mom’s death, she discovered her mom’s incomplete bucket list. “When I found that list, it was like an epiphany. I just thought, I have to finish her list, and spread her ashes in these places. But who leaves a great job? It goes against society’s norms.” McMahon did just that though. She left her career track, went through a divorce, and started gaining the skills and experience needed for outdoor adventure.

McMahon climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2008, and then cycled around southeast Asia before completing her yoga instruction training in Thailand. “I wanted to know as much as I could, it made my back feel better,” she said of the motivation. “Yoga helped with everything. And then I started this webpage so family and friends could follow me. People started writing to me that I was inspiring, and shit, I’m just trying to figure this out.” She keeps going with an example of just figuring it out. “I’m really frugal, I went up Kilimanjaro with a $25 Walmart coat.”

Payge McMahon - Mount Kilimanjaro summit

Payge spreading her mother’s ashes at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Those early adventures led to greater opportunities though and McMahon was a part of the first edition of the Grand to Grand stage race in 2012. “I was more of a backpacker. I’d done the John Muir Trail, Annapurna Circuit, Everest Base Camp, and thought, Yeah, that sounds cool,” she said of the 170-mile desert adventure in Utah. “I just looked at it as aggressive backpacking. Sixty people started, 48 finished, and I was 40th. I was the only one who’d never run a marathon before and people looked at me like I was nuts. I got my pack down to 20 pounds, and quickly learned to not eat just protein bars. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. My feet, blisters, my back was shot every night but I just kept moving forward. After the first day I just shuffled. But it was so rewarding,” she gushed.

McMahon tried a similar race in Iceland shortly thereafter but dropped when her back didn’t hold up, and later finished the Badwater Cape Fear 51-mile race in 2015. “Forty miles of it were on sand. Why do ultra people like running on sand?” she laughed. “But it was a great challenge.”

Things were going well until 2018.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she deadpanned. Trimming tree branches and eschewing safety measures, McMahon fell 15 feet from a tree and again badly injured her back. She calls out the letters and numbers of the impacted vertebrae. “There was nobody around, I was just laying there, and eventually the endurance and breathing techniques got me going, pulled myself and called for help. It wasn’t my first rodeo, so I was calm, I’d been in dangerous situations before,” she recounted. She spent five days in the hospital and exited with a custom clamshell brace and a walker. “It scared me, you know with a walker you can’t go down stairs. I couldn’t go to the kitchen. I’m never doing that again, and I started doing DDPY.”

I ask a question and she’s again quick in firm reply, “Don’t call it yoga.”

“It’s really dynamic resistance, squeezing every muscle, and it helps to get the heart rate up. There’s so many different types of yoga. This is low impact, but burns a ton. I started incorporating the bed and chair workouts,” she explained of her start. DDPY is quickly growing in popularity. The fitness program was on the Shark Tank TV show, and has had high-profile testimonials from Joe Rogan, Chris Jericho, and others, but I’m surprised that McMahon turned to DDPY. It generally appears more male dominant, and she was already a yogi.

“We dated in 2013 for a few months,” she says and explains that she caught the Arthur Boorman viral life-turnaround video in 2012. That turned her onto the program and after that she spotted the other Page–Diamond Dallas–at the Nashville, Tennessee airport in 2013. “I’m Payge too,” she remembered her greeting with a smile. “He broke up with me in 2013. I think he was intimidated by the 18-year age difference, and I was traveling the world back then. But we had so much common, even broken backs.”

Payge McMahon - Trail Runner magazine photo shoot

Payge at a Trail Runner magazine photo shoot.

Page kept following McMahon’s adventures though and in 2018 when she got to the Great Wall of China, the last item on her mom’s bucket list, Page saw it. “He was like, ‘Holy crap, she did it.’ In September of 2019 he called me. We didn’t see each other for three months, just talked, but now we’ve been together for a year and a half and it’s awesome.” A big part of DDPY is that people can get non-intimidating fitness advice from a tattooed former professional wrestler, but McMahon is a big part of the DDPY program now too, and she pitches its benefits.

“The app is very well thought out. There are chair workouts and hardcore, extreme workouts. There’s dietary stuff, gluten- and dairy-free is so much better with inflammation. People have lost ridiculous amounts of weight.” She reveals a famous actor that’s working with the program right now, but shrugs off being star struck. “People are people,” she grins. McMahon is working to bring more women to the program and incorporating her own ideas too.

“My adventures around the world have been a wild ride. I never would have been able to do all these adventures if it were not for yoga or DDPY. I took my first yoga class in 2007 and it changed my life. I’ve taught since 2008 and took up DDPY in 2012. Both have helped me train and heal my body. If somebody like me–I’ve broken 19 bones in six places–can heal their body and still climb mountains, it works.”

Call for Comments

Share your stories of Payge McMahon and being a part of DDP Yoga!

Payge McMahon and Diamond Dallas Page - DDP Yoga

Payge and Diamond Dallas Page of DDP Yoga.

Justin Mock

is a family man, finance man, and former competitive runner. He gave his 20s to running, and ran as fast as 2:29 for the marathon and finished as high as fourth at the Pikes Peak Marathon. His running is now most happy with his two dogs on the trails and peaks near his home west of Denver.