Lifting weights since he was two years old, Sandrak’s rise to popularity came a time when he could bench press nearly three times his weight at the encouragement of his father and the support of his mother. As people watched in horror, rumors of steroid use and parental abuse ran rampant leaving many to question if the young child was ever allowed to be exactly that, a child. Unfortunately, the worse proved true.
With his fame dwindling and his private life unfolding in the public eye, Sandrak disappeared from the spotlight for nearly a decade before returning in 2015 for a “Where Are They Now?” special. Looking much different and definitely happier than ever before during the interview, we couldn’t help but wonder about Sandrak’s life and just how far he’s come.
#10 – Lifting Up
Far from just being the strongest kid on the playground, the world was first introduced to Richard Sandrak in the 2004 documentary The World’s Strongest Boy.
Born in the Ukraine on April 15, 1992 to Pavel, a martial arts champion, and Lena, an aerobics competitor, Sandrak’s parents wanted to give their son a better life and moved to the United States where they settled in Pennsylvania in 1994. With a fresh start and a new home, Pavel immediately introduced his two-year-old son to stretching and weight training.
Beginning innocently enough with the young Sandrak toddling around his father’s home gym lifting small weights and learning martial arts techniques, Sandrak’s exercise regimen soon took on a life of its own as a complete bodybuilding program that defined his childhood. By the age of six and already toned thanks to four years of doing 600 push-ups, 600 sit-ups and 300 squats every day, Sandrak was a young muscled phenomenon and was the inspiration behind his family’s move to California with the hopes of making it big in show business.
#9 – Overnight Sensation
Settling in Southern California with their son looking like a miniature version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Sandrak family joined a gym and forever changed their son’s fate.
While taking a tour of the facility, they met the owners of the gym – renowned celebrity fitness trainer Frank Giardina and his wife Sherry, a former Ms. Fitness America. At first sight of the eight-year-old Sandrak, Frank thought to himself, “Is this a midget? Or is this some kind of trick photography?” Learning the truth, his decision to take on a new client was already made.
Able to bench press 210 pounds at eight years old, Sandrak only grew stronger under the guidance of the Giardinas as they spent the following months secretly working on and choreographing a new training regimen and routine. Ready to finally make his public debut, Sandrak took the stage for the first time at a bodybuilding event as Little Hercules and found instant success when he was dubbed the world’s strongest child. However, not even the fame or his physique could make up for the fact that he was nowhere close to being the world’s happiest child.
#8 – Behind the Curtain
Becoming an instant celebrity and often compared to the late Elvis Presley with people lining up and waiting hours to meet him at events around the world, Sandrak landed dozens of endorsement deals, television appearances and magazine covers.
The money started rolling in for the young boy and his family but not nearly as fast as the criticism and questions over his lifestyle. Despite seeming like a happy child when the cameras were rolling, that didn’t stop the world from wondering if the Little Hercules actually ever had a childhood outside the gym.
Openly admitting that he dedicated his entire childhood to training and that he never had time to make friends much less join them on the playground, Sandrak said that the choice was mostly his. “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.” To add to what many consider a deprived childhood, Sandrak’s father put him on a strict diet and often ate junk food like pizza in front of him while leaving his son with only a head of lettuce to eat.
#7 – Constant Training
Prevented from going to school and tutored at home so that he could spend more time training, Sandrak’s early life as a bodybuilder was ruled by his money hungry and abusive father Pavel.
As Giardina spent more and more time with Sandrak at the gym, he learned about Pavel’s criminal abusiveness and how he often made Sandrak sleep on the floor as punishment and to improve his posture. And, if Sandrak ever did anything wrong during his workout, Pavel forced him to repeat the exercise to the point of collapsing in physical exhaustion.
Recognizing Pavel’s abusiveness toward his client, Giardina had little choice but to confront him and later parted ways with the family after Pavel threatened his life. Meanwhile, the rest of the world remained oblivious to Little Hercules’ harsh reality as he joined the talk show circuit and made guest appearances on programs like The Howard Stern Show. Sharing everything from his strenuous training program to life in the spotlight as a child bodybuilder, Sandrak had little idea that his home life would soon take a sharp turn for the worse even though people like Giardina were far from surprised.
#6 – Dark Days at Home
With his popularity already waning by the time he was a teenager, many people had already forgotten about the former Little Hercules before Sandrak’s father managed to put him back in the headlines once again.
Dealing with growing tension at home after Giardina accused Pavel of abuse, Sandrak had no other choice but to call the police when Pavel turned to Lena to take out his frustrations by beating and leaving her with a broken wrist and nose. Sandrak even asked the police not to use sirens on their way to the house out of fear for how his father would react.
With his father behind bars, under psychiatric watch and facing possible deportation, Sandrak reconnected with Giardini as his mother filed divorce papers and hired a new talent manager, Marco Garcia, who also lived with them. Finally living a normal life thanks to his father’s absence and Garcia’s positive influence, Sandrak continued training at the gym but enjoyed a regular schedule with the freedom to spend time with his friends and eat whatever he wanted including pizza and junk food.
#5 – Shot at Returning to Fame
With his life resembling a normal teenager living in California, Sandrak turned to Garcia for help breaking into show business.
Once working in real estate and dabbling in film production in Los Angeles, Garcia jumped at the opportunity and, in 2009, released his debut film titled Little Hercules in 3-D starring Sandrak, Hulk Hogan and Judd Nelson. Though the film barely registered in the movie circuit, Sandrak continued to hold onto his Hollywood dreams and starred in two other films in 2012, neither of which earned him much fame.
Obviously no stranger to hard work and persistence when it came to the gym or the silver screen, Sandrak’s film career floundered but that didn’t stop him from pursuing his dreams. Hitting the gym five days a week for 90 minute workouts only when he needed to get in shape for a role, Sandrak found a different venue to boost his popularity when he was invited to appear in a series of health awareness videos for children known as Workout Video for Kids. Aware of the pressures he faced throughout his childhood and the rise of childhood obesity, Sandrak happily accepted the gig.
#4 – Emergence of the New Sandrak
A far cry from his childhood debut as Little Hercules on The World’s Strongest Boy in 2004, Sandrak may not have found star status as an actor but that doesn’t mean he isn’t finally happy.
In 2015, Inside Edition caught up with the 23-year-old former bodybuilder for an update and was shocked to discover Sandrak looked much different than his younger days as a miniature Schwarzenegger. After being forced to train in the gym 40 hours a week as a child, Sandrak admitted, “I don’t life weights anymore.
If anything, it just got boring to me.”
Sandrak told Inside Edition that after his father went to jail and he and his mother cut off all ties to the abusive relationship, bodybuilding quickly became a thing of the past. Instead of focusing on toning his abs or beating his personal record for bench pressing, Sandrak discovered he was truly passionate about one thing in particular: science. In fact, he even told Inside Edition reporters that he no longer dreamed of becoming a movie star but, instead, wanted to become a quantum scientist or an engineer for NASA.
#3 – Where Are They Now?
With plenty of time left to become a quantum scientist or NASA engineer, Sandrak’s career path has taken a very interesting route that still gives him plenty of opportunity to enjoy the spotlight.
So what exactly does he do? When asked about his line of work, Sandrak said, “I set myself on fire!” It turns out that the former childhood bodybuilder has become quite the big deal behind the scenes in Hollywood as one of the leading stuntmen at Universal Studios’ famous Water World stunt show.
Filled with high dives, fake bullets flying through the air and fiery explosions, Water World is one of Universal Studios sell-out shows with Sandrak taking the helm as one of many prized stunt actors who are set ablaze and sent soaring to the audience’s delight. Of course, no one has yet to recognize Sandrak as the former Little Hercules flying through the air. After all, he looks like an entirely different person with a beard, ponytail and a stomach that hides his once defined six-pack abs in exchange for a healthier and more normal look for his 23-year-old frame.
#2 – A Normal Life
Having said goodbye years ago to long grueling hours at the gym and strict diets filled with lima beans and lettuce, Sandrak may no longer lift weights but he still gets plenty of exercise.
He now stays busy with a regular routine of running, stair climbs and chin-ups while adding in a little skateboarding from time to time. When asked about his past popularity and childhood, Sandrak brushed off his former fame by saying, “People try to make me seem like some sort of freak of nature, but there were many kids that had a very similar physique.”
Filled with modesty despite the popularity of his childhood, the now six-foot tall Sandrak is a gentle giant whose soft and well-spoken demeanor shows no hint of bitterness toward his past.
Instead, he has finally found happiness away from the public eye and is thrilled to live a normal life that doesn’t include special appearances, interviews or endorsement deals. In fact, he has even steered clear of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as he no longer feels the need to promote himself but to enjoy life one day at a time.
#1 – Enjoying Privacy
Despite his dark family past aired out for the world to see, Sandrak embraces his days as Little Hercules and says that he doesn’t mind if that’s how most people around the world remember him, as a young Arnold Schwarzenegger.
When asked about it and his feelings, Sandrak surprised everyone when he said, “I’m very proud of my past. It’s not something that I don’t want people to know anymore, it’s just that I’m not going to be stuck living in it.”
Adopting a healthier attitude toward his past and embracing his future, the child once rumored to be pumped full of steroids by his mentally insane father has proven everyone wrong by growing up to become a productive 20-something year old living in California with dreams of working in aerospace. Well, as normal as someone who gets paid to set himself on fire and fly through the air for fun, that is.