In June of 1955 at twenty-two years of age, Paul Anderson won the USA National Amateur Athletic Union Weightlifting Championship which allowed him to travel to Moscow where he captured the world’s attention during an amateur weightlifting contest by lifting more weight on his first lift than any of his famous Russian competitors. After astounding the Russians, Paul was called “chudo piryody”: a wonder of nature as well as the “Dixie Derrick.” At this meet he broke two world records. From Russia he traveled to many Middle Eastern countries serving as a goodwill ambassador for the United States. In the fall of that same year, Paul added to his fame by winning first place in the World Championship in Munich, Germany, where he surpassed two more world records. A year later he gained further acclaim as the Gold Medalist in weightlifting at the Olympic games in Melbourne, Australia. To date he is the last American super heavyweight to come away with the “gold.” Paul Anderson, the world’s strongest man, was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as well as Famous First Facts for lifting an incredible 6,270 pounds, the greatest weight ever raised by a human being; this feat was accomplished on June 12, 1957, in Toccoa, Georgia.
While many believe Paul could have won more Olympic victories, he relinquished his amateur status so that he and his wife Glenda could establish the Paul Anderson Youth Home in Vidalia, Georgia, a Christian home for troubled youth and homeless young men between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one, the majority of whom may otherwise be sentenced to penal institutions. This ministry has directly served over 1,200 young people as well as their families since its inception in 1961.
Becoming a professional athlete allowed Paul to obtain funds for the Paul Anderson Youth Home through lifting exhibitions and speaking engagements. Until 1983 when Paul experienced renal failure due to a childhood bout with Bright’s disease, annually, he tackled as many as five hundred engagements: he spoke to churches, civic clubs, high schools, colleges, businesses, industries and military bases. He almost single-handedly raised the majority of the Paul Anderson Youth Home’s operating budget. His messages focused on Jesus Christ, family values, patriotism, and the free enterprise system. This “gentle giant” credited his Olympic victory and other successes to the Lord. From the podium Paul used his influence as a Christian athlete to instill moral standards and set spiritual goals for our nation’s youth. The booming voice of the world’s strongest man mesmerized as well as inspired. In addition, he authored three books, numerous newspaper and magazine articles, poems, weightlifting courses, and a nationally syndicated newspaper column.
In 1977 Paul received the coveted Golden Plate Award, given by the American Academy of Achievement to those who have made great accomplishments. Lowell Thomas, Wernher von Braun, John Wayne, Helen Hayes, Bob Hope, General Norman Schwarzkopf, and many others have been recipients of this prestigious award. Among the people inducted with Paul were John Chancellor, General Jimmy Doolittle, and Israeli General Dan Shomron. Paul’s hometown, Toccoa, Georgia, declared May 25, 1983, Paul Anderson Day and erected a seven-foot, sixteen-ton, granite marker at his birthplace. Paul served on the Board of Directors and Advisory Board of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and was given the Branch Rickey Award, the highest honor presented to laymen by the FCA. On February 14, 1992, he was inducted into FCA’s Hall of Champions.
Paul and Glenda Anderson have one daughter, Paula Anderson Schaefer. She and her husband, Edward Schaefer live in the home where Paul was born. Edward is the Executive Director of the Athens “Y” Camp and Christian Retreat Center in Tallulah Falls, Georgia. Paula serves on the Board of Trustees of her parents’ ministry. Edward and Paula have three children: Paul Anderson Schaefer, and Spencer Edward and Garland Dean who are twins.
Other honors bestowed on this famous American patriot include: induction into the Georgia Athletic Hall of Fame, the Stephens County Hall of Fame, the Helms Hall of Fame, the Powerlifting Hall of Fame, and honorary chairmanship of the National Kidney Foundation-Georgia Chapter. He was named Father of the Year in 1984 by the Southeast Father’s Day Committee. In 1990 Paul was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Education from Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia. In 1992 he was named “Strongest Man of the Century” at the USA Power and Strength Symposium in Orlando, Florida.
To Paul Anderson, the greatest challenge was not lifting weights but lifting spirits of teenagers, which he did as only a champion could. Paul faced a personal struggle as his health continued to decline: a result of his lifelong tug of war with kidneys that had succumbed to extreme damage from Bright’s disease. In June of 1983, Paul’s sister, Dorothy Johnson, gave him a kidney. God allowed this gift to miraculously extend his life for eleven years. Paul was a modern-day Job; he exemplified suffering without complaining. Many that were closely associated with him during his last years commented that he not only taught them how to live but also how to die.
Since Paul went home to be with the Lord on August 15, 1994, the following honors have been conferred on him: On February 7, 1995, in Savannah, Georgia, the largest weightlifting arena in the Southeast was named in his honor. On February 15, 1995, in Atlanta, Georgia, the state legislature passed resolutions which paid tribute to him. On August 13, 1995, in Atlanta, the pre-Olympic Paul Anderson Memorial Weightlifting Invitational was held. On October 17, 1995, Paul’s birthday, a historical marker provided by the State of Georgia was unveiled at the Paul Anderson Youth Home in Vidalia. On June 25, 1996, a monument in his honor was unveiled in Atlanta, Georgia, at the Plaza which joins the World Congress Center, Omni, and Georgia Dome.
One of the finest compliments ever given to Paul Anderson was made by a member of the news media who spent several days with him, especially observing his work at the Paul Anderson Youth Home. The reporter’s final statement was: “He is the World’s Strongest Man, and he also lifts weights.”
From the time the Paul Anderson Youth Home was established, Glenda has overseen its operation. During Paul’s numerous speaking engagements, she supervised staff and boys; today she continues to provide this leadership. She is the Co-founder and President of the Paul Anderson Youth Home, Inc. In addition to the administration of the Paul Anderson Youth Home, she and the other staff give personal love and care to each young man just as though he were their own.
On July 13, 1996, Glenda carried the Olympic torch for one leg of the 10,000 mile relay. Every day she carries the torch that Paul passed on to her: allowing our Heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to minister to each young man entrusted to her.