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Paul Anderson cyclists recoup in Jonesboro

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

50 years ago, Olympic Gold Medalist Paul Anderson biked 1,500 miles from Vidalia, Georgia, to Omaha, Nebraska, to raise awareness about his desire to start a youth home. While he was on his journey, S. Truett Cathy, owner and founder of Chick-fil-A, became Anderson's first contributor. Since then, Anderson was able to establish the Paul Anderson Youth Home, located in Vidalia, Georgia.

To keep his legacy alive, six young men who are residents of the youth home, along with staff members, are repeating the route and journey across nine states, in the Paul Anderson Cycling Challenge. "We're re-enacting the ride Paul Anderson did 50 years ago," said Drew Read, chief of operations for the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

Read said Wednesday that they are only two days into the bike ride, and thus far have biked from Vidalia to Cochran, from Cochran to Barnesville, and from Barnesville to making a rest stop in Jonesboro.

He said re-enacting the ride is nothing new for the youth home, in fact this is the sixth year of the 1,500-mile ride, and this year organizers wanted to go the extra mile to honor the 50th anniversary of the youth home.

"We've done this [bike ride] just around Georgia," he said, "But, to honor our 50th year we wanted to re-enact the [Paul Anderson] ride."

Read said he's an avid cyclist himself, so going on this journey was not a burden for him. He added he wanted to share this experience with the young men from the group home, so he asked six young men to tag along for the ride.

"We have seen the young men really grow," said Read. "We're also seeing how they [young men]... can accomplish something and feel good about themselves."

Chad, one the young men from the group home, who is participating in the bike ride, said this is the first time he has taken the challenge, and even while riding through the sweltering heat, said the experience has been well worth it thus far.

"Some of the things we have seen [along the journey] have been pretty cool so far." He said. "This bike ride has made me feel that I am a part of something important." He added, before making a pit stop in Jonesboro, they visited the Chick-fil-A headquarters in Atlanta, where they met with Chick-fil-A owner S. Truett Cathy. "We got to listen to some of his wisdom," he said. "I heard he does not usually give some of his time away, so it was good to hear what he had to say."

Cody, another young man from the youth home, who came along for the bike ride agreed the experience has been worth while. "Me personally, we're really just trying to bring awareness to all the people about what we [Paul Anderson Youth Home has] to offer." he said.

Read agreed, the main purpose for the bike ride is to ultimately raise awareness of their organization, as well as encourage parents to join the Family Strong movement signing the pledge to make "parent" a verb. He added that Paul Anderson Youth Home provides programs, and shelter to young men between the ages of 16 and 21, who have had trouble with the law and are in need of a second chance to restore their lives.

Cody said he was a known trouble maker, and because of the programs offered at the youth home he was able to turn his life around and mend his broken relationship with his parents. "Part of this [bike ride] is to make sure parents are teaching their kids what they need to know," said Cody.

Drew Read, of the group home, said they utilize a certain strategy in making the long bike ride.

"We'll ride generally 30 to 40 miles then take a break," he said. "We try to do that stretch in the morning, that way get a big chunk of [the] miles out they way before the heat of the day."

Anyone interested in tracking the bike ride, said Read, may visit their web site at www.paybikeride.com., where live photos and blogs are posted from each rider and staff members throughout their journey.

"This [bike ride] is an enormous accomplishment for these young men," said Read. He added, the young men are able to take away a new- found confidence, knowing completing this bike ride they can accomplish anything in life.