As children, we dream of becoming many things. Some want to be a pilot, others sports stars, others still actors or singers or entertainers.
Richard Sandrak’s boyhood dream was something entirely else. As a young child, the Ukrainian-American wanted to become a bodybuilder, and soon became known as “The World’s Strongest Boy”, or “Little Hercules.”
Sandrak was dedicated to his goal and trained five times a week, 90 minutes per session, during his early teenage years. He also followed a strict diet and had a personal trainer.
So what happened to Little Hercules? And what is the real truth behind the insane gym training supervised by his father? Today, he’s 29 years of age – and this is what he looks like!
The most important thing for any child is for them to be just that, a child. No kid should be forced into doing something they don’t want to; all should have the freedom to be able to follow their passion in life.
Many of us have known parents who tried to live out their dream through their kids, irrespective if that entailed becoming a famous scientist, dancer, hockey player, you name it! Sure, we should always encourage children to follow their dreams, but never to an extent where their childhood is spent in the pursuit of something they might not even have chosen themselves.
Richard Sandrak knows a thing or two about straddling that particular border. As a very young child, he worked out at the gym under the supervision of his father, Pavel. He would become known around the world as “The World’s Strongest Boy”. Some even called him “Little Hercules.”
Many were under the impression that Richard was forced into working out, that wasn’t the case, according to Little Hercules himself. He’s now 29 years of age, and, though yet to turn 30, he’s lived an extraordinary life.
So what happened to Little Hercules? Well, here’s the incredible story of his life to date!
Richard Sandrak was born on April 15, 1992, in Ukraine. As a very young boy, physical fitness was incorporated into his lifestyle. His mother, Lena, was an aerobics competitor, his father, Pavel, a former world champion in martial arts.
Since his father was a martial arts specialist, Richard started working out far earlier than most others. His parents drilled him in flexibility and strength when he turned two years of age, around the same time that the family moved to Pennsylvania.
There, his parents formed a dream for their son. According to a 2007 piece by The Guardian, they harbored hopes of moving to California, aiming to get good publicity for their son as he slowly morphed into a young bodybuilder.
Richard’s father, Pavel, was heavily criticized at the time and accused of drilling his son too hard. He had enormous muscles for such a young boy, and some even speculated that he had taken steroids to become that ripped. His parents, however, vehemently denied this.
In a 2009 BBC interview, Little Hercules himself set the record straight on the idea that he was forced into working out as much as he did.
“I’ve never been forced to train or do anything against my will,” he said. “My parents used to train all the time, and I wanted to join in. It was mostly my choice. It’s just what I grew up doing. I was never forced. It was never an issue.”
Though Richard claims he wasn’t forced to work out, his father’s routine was what some would call extreme.
According to The Guardian, he underwent “six or seven hour training regimes” consisting of thousands of press-ups. The young boy didn’t attend school, but was home tutored instead – his father oversaw everything.
In 2004, Richard’s parents’ plan looked to be gaining traction. The documentary The World’s Strongest Boy aired, bringing him plenty of attention. Naturally, the reaction wasn’t all positive, with people wondering out loud if his parents had given him steroids or other supplements to enhance his muscle growth.
In the documentary, viewers saw Little Hercules flexing and posing on a Las Vegas stage. He had an eight-pack abdomen at the time, and looked every inch a miniature Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But Richard was only capable of flexing his impressive muscles. The little boy was also described as a “master of karate,” able to do splits and bend and contort his body. Weighing just 80 pounds, he could bench press twice his body weight at age eight. By age 11, he could lift three times his body weight. It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that his workout routine had to have been out of this world.
Little Hercules traveled all over the US with his father, entering several competitions and promoting nutritional products.
“We had more people at our booth than any 25 booths combined … I mean hundreds of people like they were going to meet Elvis Presley,” manager and trainer in Frank Giardina said.
Richard trained five times each week, with each session lasting 90 minutes. He also followed a rigorous diet that included the consumption of lima beans due to their protein. At that time, it was said that Richard Sandrak had less than one-percent body fat, which in the long run can be dangerous.
Now, it wasn’t only Richard’s parents that helped the boy turn into Little Hercules. He had a manager and trainer in Frank Giardina, but Frank himself believed that the boy’s father was employing some sketchy methods after they started working together.
Starred in film alongside Hulk Hogan
As per reports, Pavel forced his son do repeated, intense exercises if he didn’t follow orders. He also made Richard sleep on the floor to maintain perfect posture.
Sandrak himself told The Guardian that it was “no big deal.”
“But it was just a phase trying out something different,” he said. “Nothing important.”
When Richard was 11, his father went to prison, after which Richard cut all ties with him and stopped bodybuilding. However, he didn’t stop training entirely.
At 15, he got himself a new manager in Marco Garcia. Marco also worked as a film producer, which would lead Richard into a new field. In 2009, the film Little Hercules in 3-D was released, including cast members such as Hulk Hogan and Elliot Gould. By all accounts, it was somewhat of a fiasco, but it didn’t stop Richard from continuing his work.
“For now, I just want to go out and make more movies,” Sandrak said at the time, adding that he wanted to help the world.
“What I’ve noticed a lot is childhood obesity. It’s become such a big problem, especially here in America, that I feel I have to do something. Kids are going to be adults. They’re going to be our future. Right now, one out of three has potential of dying before their parents. I want to get them eating right and doing sports one hour a day.”
He continued: “I think of it this way: the kids that do that, how do they end up? They don’t end up with successful careers in any good business. They end up working at McDonald’s, and that’s not a life I want for myself.”
Not only did Little Hercules appear on the big screen, but he got to spend time on the red carpet and was pictured alongside Hulk Hogan as he attended the 2005 premier of Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
Besides his film Little Hercules in 3-D, Richard appeared in the 2012 film The Legends of Nethiah and the short film Assassin Priest, released the same year.
Growing up, Richard didn’t do much except lift weights and work out. It was his whole life, and he never tired of it. However, as Richard grew older, he disappeared from the spotlight. As of today, he doesn’t lift weights at all.
Instead, he’s transitioned to a more ‘normal’ life, even if his latest job isn’t one the average person might choose to do.
As reported by Inside Edition in 2015, Richard “Little Hercules” Sandrak started working at Universal Studios for their Hollywood “Water World” show. As part of his job, Richard performed several amazing stunts, including being set on fire and then diving into water from a height of more than 50 feet. He reportedly does this up to five times a day.
Instead of spending hours and hours in the gym lifting weights each day, he rather enjoys staying in shape thanks to cardio training, running, and skateboarding. That and jumping off platforms into water after being lit on fire.
“The first time was very scary; all I could think about was to follow the safety procedures,” he told Inside Edition. “I don’t lift weights anymore. If anything, it just got boring to me.”
“I’m very proud of my past”
While talking about his past as Little Hercules, Richard said that people tried to make him seem like some sort of freak of nature. He, however, insists that many other kids had similar physiques.
“I’m very proud of my past,” he said. “It’s not something that I don’t want anybody to know anymore, it’s just that I’m not going to be stuck living in it.”
It’s hard to think that the man in the picture below was once Little Hercules. But one thing is for sure; Richard Sandrak continues to follow his dreams and is relentless in his pursuit of doing the things he loves the most.
That said, is being a stuntman his dream job? Well, not really.
“Quantum scientist. For … more specifically, maybe even an engineer at NASA,” he said.
“Absolutely. There’s no reason that it couldn’t be.”
Richard “Little Hercules” Sandrak has had a very interesting life so far. We’re happy that he’s proud of his new career – and even happier that he’s been able to find a new passion.