Brains and Brawn… Paul Anderson’s Night at the Olympics – Part III
BY ALEX CAMPBELL
Anderson strode down the long, dark corridor backstage. As Paul contemplated his humiliating defeat, he began to think of all of the blessings he had in his life just to make it this far.
How he overcame his kidney disease as a child, how he was able to convince his family to allow him to compete in sports, his dad’s support to help him build his first weight set, his family’s move to tiny Elizabethton, TN, his chance meeting with his early lifting mentor Bob Peoples, the injury to Schmansky, and his triumph at the competition in Russia to pave his way to the Olympics.
It was like God was showing Paul all of the amazing things He had knitted together in his life to make this moment possible, yet Paul had ignored Him.
Paul considered himself a good person, he had a loving Christian family, attended church, and helped people. But Paul had never really thought about what he was doing for the Lord with this amazing gift with which he had been blessed.
He actually tried to pray in that dark and lonely hall, but he couldn’t bring himself to do so as he had ignored God for so long. Paul recognized how ungrateful he had been and how unworthy he was as he tramped back to the arena.
As Anderson made his way to the platform, the chants of “Chudo Prirody” from a year ago had long since faded. The arena was silent as the crowd looked on bewildered at how the strongest man in the world had become so broken.
This would be his third and final attempt to salvage his chance at not just Olympic gold, but any placing at all.
An incredible hush fell over the crowd as he skulked over the bar. As before, he was able to raise the bar to his chest, but it felt even heavier than before.
It was at this moment, in what appeared a split second to the crowd but felt like a long conversation in Paul’s mind, the most important talk of Paul’s life took place.
Paul knew he could never put that weight overhead; he became desperate. In that very lonely and weak moment, Paul found he could be sincere with God.
Anderson told the Lord that he was aware of all He had done for him and that he had returned Him nothing. In that instant, Paul made a commitment to God, not a bargain to help him win, but a life-long pledge to serve the Lord with his life.
Paul hunkered down and pushed all his energy into the bar, and amazingly, it began to move.
He pushed with all he had and finally locked the bar out overhead and held it there until the judges certified his lift. The bar came crashing down, and the crowd went wild.
They could not believe what they had just seen. Paul had his share of struggles. He had been a sick kid beaten by bullies, a poor child looked down upon by others, a young man too big to play football, and a lifter not good enough to make the trip to Russia to compete.
But he had also seen some great times as well: his win at the Amateur Athletic Union National Championships, the fortuitous selection as a last-second addition to the American team headed to Russia, winning over the Russian crowd with a heroic display of strength, and being crowned the Chudo Prirody.
Now, however, he had a new title, Olympic Champion.
Later in life, Paul wrote in his autobiography that he had a huge smile on his chubby face the next morning. He said it was not so much the win that put it there but “his new relationship with Christ.”
He not only won that Olympic gold medal but something much more valuable.
It wasn’t long after this most improbable come from behind victory, that Paul decided to found his youth home which forced his hand on his athletic career.
Most would find that a difficult decision to give up something he worked so hard for and to be honest, was really just beginning.
Paul, however, found it easy to give up on his dreams of more championships, records, trophies, nicknames, and medals and replace it with his work to save young men.
Paul traveled the country raising money to take even more troubled young men into his home. He often shared the story of the time God helped him win the Olympic gold and the commitment he made under that bar in a split second.
Anderson said it was an amazing honor to stand on the winner’s platform as the national anthem was played and the American flag raised.
Paul continued that the greatest thrill in his life was having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Anderson would conclude “If I, Paul Anderson, the World’s Strongest Man, cannot make it through one day without Jesus Christ, how can you?”
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