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About Paul Anderson 

Toccoa's Native Son

Just a short walk from here, down East Tugalo Street is the birthplace of Paul Edward Anderson. On October 17, 1932, Paul was born at home and was welcomed by his parents Robert and Ethel Anderson and sister, Dorothy. Throughout his youth, Paul frequented these very grounds on his daily journeys to school and during neighborhood adventures with friends.

Paul, age 4 or 5, shortly after Bright's disease, at home in Murphy, North Carolina, 1937.

High School football team (Paul is #27, first row, second from right)

Persevering Through Adversity

Paul’s life was threatened at age 5 when he became ill with Bright’s Disease, a kidney ailment. The doctors gave little hope of recovery but family and friends united in prayer for Paul. He triumphantly survived but was plagued with kidney problems for the remainder of his life.

Paul attended Toccoa City Schools and graduated from Toccoa High School in 1950. He entered Furman University on a football scholarship. It was there that he first became seriously interested in weightlifting. He soon left college returning home where all of his attention was turned to his newfound sport. During these early years, the true champion began to emerge as this ingenious young man envisioned and created homemade weights and apparatuses that are still awe-inspiring. On any given day, Paul could be seen lifting old car axles, 50-gallon drums filled with concrete, huge iron wheels, an old safe filled with weights and concrete, or a combination of them all.

At nineteen, with less than a year’s training under his belt, Paul was lifting poundage that was approximately equal to the world records at that time. The weightlifting world quickly took notice of this new lifting prodigy and marveled at Paul’s natural brute strength, which many noted as “unbelievable”. Paul’s strength grew so rapidly that he continually broke his own records and those of others as well.


During 1953 and 1954, Paul suffered many setbacks, which included injuries to his right wrist and the breaking of his left wrist, sustained while lifting. During this time, his hip was seriously impacted and several ribs were broken in an automobile accident. With his tenacity and ingenuity, he modified the cast on his broken wrist by rigging a brace, which allowed him to continue training.


These setbacks only served as further examples of Paul Anderson’s unbreakable determination. Paul made a triumphant comeback and continued his record-smashing spree while drawing large crowds whenever he lifted in competitions or exhibitions.

At the 1955 World Weightlifting Championships he won handily, broke a few of his own records, and began looking to the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne Australia.

Lifting in Egypt, June 1955.

In June of 1955, he won the USA National Amateur Athletic Union Weightlifting Championship. Through this victory, Paul earned a spot on the United States Weightlifting Team and was invited to travel behind the Iron Curtain for a series of weightlifting contests against the Russians. Paul and his fellow weightlifters were the first non-dignitary delegation from America to visit Moscow after World War II.


In St. Petersburg, a crowd of sixteen thousand enthusiastic Russians gathered in steady rain at a sports amphitheater called Gorki Park to watch the weightlifting meet. Anderson broke three world records that evening as the Russians first watched in disbelief and then shouted, “ chudo prirody” which translates into “A wonder of nature!” The immense popularity of the U.S. weightlifting team was evident and the international goodwill trip was extended to Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and Egypt. Paul’s fame had spread around the world and he became one of the best-known athletes of that time.

Ready for the 1956 Olympics

Weight: over 350 pounds

Neck Size: 24 inches


Biceps: over 24 inches


Chest:  58 inches


Thigh: 36 inches


In the best condition and form of his life, Paul was ready for the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia.


All the experts of the day believed that Paul merely had to show up to win the Olympic gold medal.


However that day would not turn out to be a walk in the park for Paul.  Learn More

Paul is all smiles holding his Olympic medal, Melbourne, Australia, 1956. Wide World photo.

Winning Olympic Gold

On November 26, 1956 Paul won the Olympic Gold Medal at the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. The New York Times reported that his triumph was one of the most dramatic in Olympic history. (more info) 


Guinness World Book of Records

In 1957, Paul Anderson solidified his title as “The World’s Strongest Man” by lifting 6,270 in a backlift. The Guinness Book of World Records entry was; “Greatest Lift. The greatest weight ever raised by a human being is 6,270 lbs. in a back lift (weight lifted off trestles) by 364- lb. Paul Anderson (U.S.) (b. 1932), the 1956 Olympic heavyweight champion, at Toccoa, Georgia, on June 12, 1957.” In the yard of his East Tugalo Street home, Paul’s father constructed a platform on which Paul placed the heaviest objects that he could find. Among the many items assembled on the platform were a safe and its stand filled with weights and concrete that alone weighed 2,480 pounds. This safe is a favorite keepsake of Paul’s family to this day.

The Birth of the Youth Home

After visiting several detention homes and prisons he began to develop a deep concern for young people. Many of the prisons, placed young boys together with hardened adult criminals and Paul had an idea to use his abilities to make money and start a home for troubled and homeless young people. Paul began raising the needed funds for his dream to help America’s youth.

Paul and Glenda in front of colonial house, PAYH landmark, Vidalia, Georgia, 1964.

In 1959, Paul married Glenda Garland (b.1941) also from Toccoa. Glenda shared in Paul’s dream and was the catalyst he needed in getting the Youth Home started. By 1961, the Andersons had opened the doors of the Paul Anderson Youth Home in Vidalia, Georgia.

Paul made over 500 public appearances a year to support the Home. He would give a weightlifting demonstration and share his Christian faith and his love for America with the crowd. Paul would hold a crowd almost spellbound with his booming voice and his keen and clever wit. His feats of strength would bring audiences to their feet and his message would change many hearts.

While Paul was traveling the country raising money for the Paul Anderson Youth Home, Glenda was caring for the Youth Home residents. In 1966, Paul and Glenda welcomed their only child, Paula Dean Anderson, into the world. Paula and her husband, Edward Schaefer have three children, Paul Anderson Schaefer (b. 1996), Spencer Edward Schaefer (b. 2000), and Garland Dean Schaefer (b. 2000).

Paul and Glenda’s original vision for the Paul Anderson Youth Home remains unchanged today: the Home works with juveniles who would otherwise be incarcerated. The young men are first and foremost taught about the saving grace and enduring love of Jesus Christ. The Paul Anderson Youth Home, located on a 50- acre campus, offers to its students the opportunity of completing their education at the Home’s accredited high school which more than adequately prepares the young men for college, vocational school, or a career in the military. Paul believed that if a troubled boy learned to love himself rather than striking out at others that he would instead reach out to help others. And Paul Anderson also strove to instill in each boy a strong work ethic.

In the early 1980’s, Paul’s kidneys, which had been seriously damaged by his childhood bout with Bright’s disease, failed him. His sister, Dorothy Anderson Johnson, selflessly gave him one of her kidneys in 1983. This priceless gift gave the entire Anderson family many more years to share together with their beloved Paul.

Paul often told a story about how a great racecar driver once won a race even while driving a slightly broken down automobile. Paul would relate that it was not the vehicle, which won the race; it was the driver inside that mattered. Paul demonstrated this in the wee hours of the morning at the Olympic Games and each and everyday of his life. Paul Anderson showed that his true strength was not his physical strength but his true spiritual strength, which was found in Jesus Christ.


Paul Anderson celebrated his Home going on August 15, 1994.


“My life is being given as an offering to God, and the time has come for me to leave this life. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:6-7

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