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Lifting weights and men
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If you travel to Toccoa, in North Georgia, it will be an unforgettable experience. Located on Georgia Highway 17, the scenic town is reached via Interstate 85, through Lavonia. Your main point of interest is the falls, 29 feet higher than Niagra, and one of the South's famous attractions.

The commanding view is an enchantment. If you're there on a clear day, you will stand on the campus of Taccoa Falls College, and see the waters falling like lost spirits yearning for home, flashing and glittering in the sunlight, and dropping 186 feet.

Wading through the cool, transparent waters which forms a rippling pool at the foot of the falls, you feel the gentle touch of an adoring spray caressing your face.  

Caught-up in the joy of discovery, you will find before long that you are near a place where splendor and strength once met; where nature's beauty greeted human potential to reach unmatched limits.

In the center of town, you will see the boyhood home of the late Paul Anderson, the world's strongest man. A monument stands in front of the stone house at 912 East Tugalo Street paying tribute to the county's favorite son; it was erected May 25, 1983.

After unveiling the granite monument, which commemorates his '56 Olympic victory, a crowd of 500 honored Anderson at a banquet at the Georgia Baptist Assembly, with Tom Landry, coach of the Dallas Cowboys, as the main speaker.

The festivities marked the homecoming of a hero and a casual reunion of the Stephens County High School class of 1950. Anderson had played football there and was remembered as the herculean quarterback who could always be counted on to move the ball three or four yards dragging the whole opposing team with him.

The happy event was tinged with sadness. Anderson was physically sick with kidney failure and was to undergo surgery the next week; his sister had offered to donate one of her kidneys to save his life.

In his remarks at the banquet, Paul said, "If you hear that Paul Anderson is dead, he's not dead; he's gone to live with God."

Born October 17, 1932, Anderson was a devout Christian who used his athletic career to promote his faith. Active in a ministry to boys, he founded the Paul Anderson Youth Homes. The original home is in Vidalia; others are in Texas.

On June 12, 1957, the greatest weight ever raised by a human being, 6,270, was lifted by this Georgian. The feat was performed in a back lift.

He also set records by bench-pressing 627 pounds, achieved a 1,200 pound lift in a squat, and dead-lifted 820 pounds, making an aggregate career record of 2,647.

Anderson, often called "an incredible phenomenon," began lifting in the 1950s. He broke world records the first year of his trials. He was 5-foot, 10 inches tall, and weighed over 300 pounds, a massive hulk. With only three years of training, in 1955, he became the first man in the world to score a total of 1,100 pounds.

Often performing in strong-man stunts, Anderson would keep his audiences spellbound as he hoisted a 900-pound barbell across his shoulders and did three complete knee bends in rapid succession.

There may be others today who have surpassed Anderson's record. For example, Vasily Alexeyev, the Russian, who lifted more than 1,188 pounds, billed himself as the strongest man on earth.

I learned this about weightlifting: the rules of the sport were modified in 1993, making the then world records redundant. It is my conviction that if the Paul Anderson of the mid-century were living today, and if standards of measurement were equalized, he would still be the strongest.

Last night I talked with Dr. Harold Sangster, former head of the Baptist Assembly at Toccoa, and a participant in the homecoming ceremonies for Anderson. The noted Baptist leader spoke affectionately of the Olympic champion with whom he had a long friendship and said, "Paul was a man of great compassion, especially for young boys, helping thousands and inspiring perhaps millions."

Paul attributed all his strength and achievements to God; he felt that he was stronger on the inside than the outside, because of this connection:

For me and a multitude which cannot be numbered, Paul Anderson will always be The World's Strongest Man.