Stephen Woltz knows a thing or two about scaling the career ladder.

The 2011 Virginia Tech graduate also knows quite a bit about climbing literal ladders, as well as jumping off them onto opponents.

In November, Woltz, who wrestles professionally as Adam “Hangman” Page, reached a pinnacle of the wrestling world by winning the All Elite Wrestling (AEW) World Championship at the pay-per-view event Full Gear held in Minneapolis. His first reign as world champion, the victory came more than two years after being defeated in the AEW’s inaugural world title bout and after three decades of climbing toward that dream.

“I was so tired,” Woltz said of that moment. “It was a very surreal feeling, though, winning the championship I had chased for so long. The sense of accomplishment has taken a bit longer to set in, but I’m eternally grateful for the fans who have stuck with me along the ride, who never gave up on me even when I had given up on myself.”

Woltz’s journey began during his elementary school years when he wrestled on trampolines for the upstart promotion, Aaron’s Creek Wrestling.

“Friends would come over, and we’d have fun putting on a show, jumping off of the deck railing for swantons and putting each other through cardboard boxes I’d co-opted from the fifth-grade book fair deliveries,” he said.

He began training professionally at 15 and wrestling independent shows at 16. He continued to progress while earning a bachelor’s degree in communication in Blacksburg and while teaching multimedia journalism at Halifax County High School in South Boston, Virginia, before turning his focus entirely to wrestling in 2016.

“I turned in my notice to HCHS that May of 2016 and bet it all on wrestling,” Woltz said. “It ended up paying off pretty well despite the weird looks I got when they announced I’d be leaving to ‘go fight in Japan’ at the year-end faculty meeting.”

Largely considered the primary competitor for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), AEW airs multiple shows on television and online each week and produces quarterly pay-per-view events each year. Under the moniker of the “Anxious Millennial Cowboy,” Woltz is a headliner for the promotion. He embraces a “work hard, play hard” attitude he believes parallels the blue-collar, service-oriented mentality he experienced at Virginia Tech.

Though it’s been a while since he’s been able to return to campus, Woltz said he always enjoys being able to soak up Blacksburg.

“When I do get the chance to come through, though, I love to just take a slow drive through campus. It’s all such a pretty view,” Woltz said. “And of course, the obligatory visit to TOTs [Top of the Stairs].”

Fresh on winning the title belt, Woltz answered some questions about his past, his career, and his time in Blacksburg.  

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Adam Page won the All Elite Wrestling World Championship in November. Photo courtesy of All Elite Wrestling.

How did you get into wrestling and what captivated you about it?

I got into wrestling when I was 9 or 10, I’d guess. I was initially captivated by the high-flying stuff, but stuck around as I became attached to the characters on TV and the people behind the profession. When you’re that young, or at any age, it’s just buck wild to see someone jump off a 12-foot ladder and even cooler to see them climb those ladders, both metaphorically and literally, to achieve their dreams. Of course, I immediately wanted to try it myself and took to the trampoline and rooftops. I used to be able to do a backflip with two lateral rotations, too, but Father Time has taken that one from me.

What led you to come to Virginia Tech?

My dad is a Hokie alumnus and a huge Virginia Tech football fan. I applied to Tech for early admission and got in and just never applied anywhere else. It was the only place I wanted to go. It was a place that felt like home.

You wrestled while also attending Virginia Tech and later while teaching full time at Halifax County High School. How did you maintain that balance?

I think I slacked a lot in my studies at Tech to be honest, so I’m maybe not the poster child for balance. I’d gotten my associate’s degree through my high school’s dual-enrollment program, so I was able to finish my communication B.A. in two years with the help of my counselor, Marlene Preston. I hope she’s doing well; she was nice. She must have thought I was crazy when I told her I wanted to hurry up and graduate, so I could pursue wrestling. Same for Paul HarriIl, who taught a lot of my film classes. He was cool.

My heart was in wrestling. I stuck with the film program regardless and somehow it helped me land a job with HCHS teaching multimedia classes when a teacher quit four days before classes began in 2011.

The teaching job was excellent for wrestling, though: weekends and summers completely free to travel to shows and seminars where I’d eventually start working for Ring of Honor (ROH). I had a great support system at Halifax, though, and a principal in Albert Randolph who was willing to look the other way when I took three sick days to wrestle Vader in Los Angeles one week. I got away with a lot more than I should have, and I wasn’t always the best teacher I could have been. I did put a lot into my classes, though, and love to keep up with a few of my former students who’ve pursued studies and now careers in journalism and design. The pay for teachers can be pretty laughable, but it provided me the security to chase my wrestling dreams and the unparalleled pleasure of watching students really get into their work.

How did you come up with the name Adam Page, and later, the persona of Hangman Page?

I was trying to come up with a fake wrestling name when I was younger and just mashed together a bunch of names. I ended up with Adam, the first name of my ACW foe and real-life best friend, and Page from Jimmy Page, guitarist of Led Zeppelin with whom I was obsessed as a teenager. Hangman came a bit later when New Japan told me that would be my name to fill the role of then-departing Luke Gallows.

How did you go about crafting your in-ring, on-screen personality? How similar is it to you?

My on-screen character is just me with a drink in my hand and a camera unceremoniously shoved into my face.

What does day-to-day life of a professional wrestler look like?  

I’ve got a little gym in my garage, so it’s usually an hour or so of weight training and maybe 30 minutes to an hour of cardio, separated in the day to retain some sanity. I eat six to seven meal-prepped things a day so that, too, keeps me busy and kind of full. I watch a lot of animal programs. I sit in a lot of hotel room beds and play on my phone. I get a first-class plane seat these days, so I drink out of a lot of those little water bottles because I always forget my big water bottle from home. I take a lot of Ubers. It’s very glamorous. I do have a baby now, so there’s that. I’m a pretty busy guy. 

Mental health and substance misuse have been a part of recent storylines in a way unlike many other wrestling leagues of the present and past. Why do you think it was important for AEW to include these topics in the storytelling, and what do you hope the audience takes away from it?

I really think of a lot of the stories addressing substance misuse, mental health, etc. isn’t really a product of AEW’s doing as much as it’s the byproduct of AEW allowing their wrestlers to be themselves and tell the stories they want to tell. That’s certainly the case with me. Wrestling is very much an art and is subjective as such, so I think whatever fans feel they take from the story is best. I definitely have some emotions and themes in mind when I approach something, but I’m always surprised by the things fans end up taking away from a story that is often just my real life played out for an audience.

What are some of your favorite memories from your time at Virginia Tech?

I had a lot of fun working at InnovationSpace in the Torg building [Torgersen Hall]. I made a lot of friends there and started dating my now-wife while I talked to her on Facebook while sitting at the help desk. Paul Harrill also had our small class over for a party at his house, and Bibek made some bad-ass Indian dumplings that I still think about. I also got to rush the field after a big football win one time, so that was fun.

What role has Virginia Tech played in where you are today?

Virginia Tech was a really eye-opening experience for me. Quite a culture shock. I was a kid from a small, conservative farm town now in classes and making friends with people from all over the world. I think just that simple broadening of my horizons was my most important lesson of my time there, and the accompanying ability to learn from people very much unlike me at the time.

In my second year, I was still in a dorm and my neighbors next door figured out we could take down the mirrors over our sinks and climb through into the other room. We played beer pong through the gap. Probably shouldn’t have told you that.

You’ve also written a children’s book (“Adam and the Golden Horseshoe”). What advice do you have for little Hokies out there?

You’ll have to buy my children’s book to hear my advice to young Hokies! In all honesty, just have fun with life and cherish the connections you make. They’re all that matter.

Article written and interview conducted by Travis Williams