The World's Strongest Man
The fourth house on the right has a suitably massive monument noting that it was at this house that Paul Anderson (1932-1994), the world's strongest man, was born. When he was five years old, Anderson contracted Bright's disease, a liver ailment which nearly killed him. He recovered and was 180 pounds by the age of 14. He played football in high school and went on to a scholarship to Furman University. It was there that Anderson began lifting weights with his teammates.
It was immediately clear that Anderson was built for weightlifting as he broke University records with his first lifts and within weeks was setting unofficial world records. He resigned his scholarship and returned to Toccoa to train in earnest. He fashioned homemade barbells out of car axles and buckets of cement, setting up a gym in his father's garage. He developed his own theory on weightlifting in that garage, that he should train each muscle group to withstand weights greater than those in competition. Anderson traveled with an American team to Russia in 1955 to compete against that countries top weightlifters in the first athletic competition between the teams since World War II. The Russsian favorite Alexei Medvediev equaled the Olympic record with a 330.5 pound military press. When Anderson took his turn, pressing 402.5 pounds newspapers reported that the Russian audience rose to its feat as one chanting Chudo Prirody meaning "wonder of nature." In the Olympic triathalon the weight lifted in three lifts--military press, snatch, and clean and jerkCare totaled for an aggregate weight lifted. He lifted 1,130 pounds total and broke four world records on that tour.
The following year Anderson traveled to Melbourne, Australia for the 1956 summer Olympic games. Anderson was suffering from a 104-degree fever at the time of the weightlifting competition. The 23-year-old Anderson went toe to toe with Argentina's Humberto Selvetti in a three-hour duel that ended at 3 a.m. Melbourne time with Anderson setting a world record with a 413.5 pound jerk to equal Selvetti's total of 1,102 pounds. Following Olympic rules, the gold medal went to Anderson as the Argentinean weighed 12 pounds more than the 304 pound American. At that time his body measurements were astounding. The five-foot ten-inch Anderson had 34-inch thighs, a 52.5 -inch chest, 23-inch neck and 9-inch thick wrists.
In June of 1957, Anderson made the lift that secured his place in the weightlifting pantheon as the "World’s Strongest Man." He had a table special built, on top he placed a lead-filled safe and parts of junk cars. The total weight was 6,270 pounds. As a crowd looked on, he crawled under the table, tightly gripped a stool and arched his back to lift the table off the floor.
The publicity stunt started Anderson's professional career. He went on the road putting on weightlifting exhibitions to raise money for the Paul Anderson Youth Home he created in Vidalia in 1961. It provides a stable home for homeless teenagers, who live on the grounds while attending the local high school. On graduation, the teenagers go out on their own, often having spent two years at the Youth Home.
In the early 1970s, Anderson was giving as many as 500 speeches a year, lifting weights at each performance, often lifting a table full of large men on his back. With a strong Christian message, Anderson often found himself using his God-given talent to lift weights in churches, where the pulpit had been pushed aside to make room for the weightlifters show and talk. He used the speakers fees to underwrite 70 percent of the Youth Home's budget, with the rest coming in through donations.
Always a take charge leader, Anderson was known for running the youth home his own way, even though he was often on the road with his wife and staff handling the day to day work. When a staff member or supporter would offer changes or suggestions, he would listen and perhaps use their advice. But when pressed to make changes, such as opening the home to more youths at a time, he was fond of saying, "What does it say on that sign down by the road." If someone slow to catch would go so far as to reply, "The Paul Anderson Youth Home," he would reply, "That’s what I thought." He did this so frequently that "Whose name is on the sign" became the slogan that backed up policies at the successful home.
A note to the reader who has this story reproduced here without the benefit of the remainder of the tour in the book. Paul Anderson's birthplace is on Tugaloo Street in city of Toccoa.
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