1. A Kid Who Defied All Expectations
It’s no news to us that achieving a body like this takes quite a bit of work. A lot of commitment, dedicated hours, and dietary choices may have to change in order to build an impressive physique. This is especially true if our aim is to reach “god-like” physiques, like famous bodybuilders Arnold Swarzenegger, Dwayne Johnson, or Lou Ferrigno.
Yet, one specific kid managed to start working on his physique goals at a pretty young age. At the age of eight, Little Hercules took over the world, but soon disappeared leaving all of us wondering what happened to him.
2. It Was In His Genes
But let’s start from the beginning. Little Hercules was born in 1992. His parents, Lena and Pavel, named him Richard Sandrak and found it really important to keep their kid active from a young age. He was born and raised in Ukraine where he began his bodybuilding journey, but most of his life would be spent in the United States.
His parents were always pretty active, as his mom, Lena, was an aerobics teacher while his dad, Pavel, was a martial arts trainer and enthusiast. So it’s not surprising that Richard started his bodybuilding journey early on, as he would often join his parents in their busy physical routines.
3. Learning Each Move
After just a couple of years working out with his parents, Richard reached an entirely different level. Several parents worldwide have incredibly high expectations for their children, and Richard’s parents were no exception. Though they were based in Ukraine, the family decided that it was time to move across the pond and start a new life.
Lena and Pavel agreed that the best place to raise their son would be Pennsylvania, so they packed their bags, and off they went. Once they were settled in, it didn’t take too long until they were back in business. They quickly found a gym nearby, as staying too long without working out was never an option.
4. Being Trained By His Father
That was when Richard’s father decided it was time to begin teaching his son some Taekwondo moves. Though it caught Pavel by surprise, the pair had just started the lessons when he noticed that his son was really special. The way he learned the moves distinguished himself from any other student he had ever had.
Richard was completely in control of his moves and had a perfect combination of the balance and mental strength that is needed for mastering martial arts. He also picked up things quickly, which was something that Pavel had not anticipated, but was happy to learn about. At some point, he thought that it was time to introduce weight gaining to his son. This was the beginning of a long journey that would end with suspicious, terrible rumors, and, eventually, the police.
5. He Became The Best
He started slowly, both by teaching Richard about weight gaining, and going through some technical stretches and moves that would be important for his routine. Yet, Richard continued to do and learn everything effortlessly, like he had been made for it. He kept getting better with each lesson, and that was when the family once again decided to relocate.
This time, they were moving to California. Pavel had a vision for his son, so they needed to be in the right place. Though Pavel had amazing martial art skills, he knew that if he wanted to take his son’s skillfulness to a different level he needed professional training. So he searched everywhere for a trainer who would be the best fit, finally finding the one and only Frank Giardina.
6. They Agreed That He Was Different
Frank was an impressive man. He owned his own gym franchise and had decades of experience in bodybuilding. If his spectacular background wasn’t enough, he had access to every single tool and apparatus that Richard needed to reach the next level of his training. Pavel was satisfied with his choice, and now more than ever, hoped that Richard would get the best training until he eventually reached stardom.
As soon as Frank met Richard, he also saw something different. Pavel and Frank were instantly on the same page and were determined to work together to take Richard to a whole other level. Right away, Frank started writing up an exercise plan that would allow Richard to grow more than ever.
7. Should They Be Pushing A Child So Hard?
If the plan actually worked, Richard would be able to work on every single muscle in his body. Quickly, Frank and Pavel made an agreement, they were both going to work hard to push Richard to become one of the youngest and strongest bodybuilders in the world. With Richard’s set of skills, it was an achievable dream.
In order to achieve that though, they began training Richard as if he was an adult instead of a child. Although it might sound strange, it seemed like whatever they were doing was working because Richard’s body made progress every single week. But that didn't mean that people weren't beginning to question the ethics of what his parents were doing.
8. Proving How Strong He Was
By the age of six, Richard looked different from every other child in the world. Obviously, the bigger he became, the more attention he caught from strangers. People quickly started approaching the little boy with muscles with increasing curiosity, which confirmed that Pavel’s plan to make his son famous was working. Soon after they started referring to the kid as “Little Hercules”.
Though it was easy to figure out that Richard was an incredibly strong child, when Richard was able to bench an astounding 180 pounds at the age of six, everyone completely lost it. Basically, this means that Richard was able to bench the equivalent of an adult male kangaroo, which many adults fail to do themselves.
9. His Ability To Lift Weights Was Shocking
If most adults struggle to carry such weight, just imagine a little child. But this was just the beginning of it all. Richard was only getting stronger and was determined to break some crazy world records. Sure enough, by the age of eight, Richard was able to lift some 210 pounds, once again shocking the world.
What was even more incredible is that he barely struggled to pick that weight up off the ground. But although the world was excited to see the successful side of Richard’s accomplishments, barely anyone got to see the work it took to get there. As we're about to learn, things could become pretty difficult away from the spotlight.
10. Richard Was The Victim Of Abuse
Richard was after all just a little kid with a grueling workout routine to follow on a daily basis. He could be found at the gym every single day, with Frank pushing him to his limits. In addition to the workout, Richard also had a hard regimen to follow at home, directed by his father.
Once he got home from each gym session, his father would actually stand over his son while requiring him to perform 600 push-ups, 300 squats, and 600 sit-ups every evening. Only after completing them, he would get to rest. That resulted in a pretty harsh childhood for Richard. The intense workouts ended in a pretty unbalanced and unhealthy lifestyle, especially for a child. While the whole world was enthralled at the moment, it wouldn't be long before people began asking some tough questions.
11. Being Forced To Watch His Parents Eat Junk Food
Every aspect of his life was dominated by his workout routine. Lena and Pavel even prohibited Richard from spending any time with children his age, let alone play and go out to the park. Because most of his childhood was dedicated to his regimen, he never actually got any friends and failed to meet anyone his age after the move.
More than that, even his meal plans were pre-determined by his parents, so even though other kids got to eat a piece of candy here and there, Richard barely even knew what candy was. And because Richard was so determined to make his parents and his trainer proud, he continued to follow through with the regimen while keeping his complaints to himself.
12. Balancing His Choices
Richard’s meal plan was mainly made of lean meats, fruits, vegetables... and nothing more. If he felt hungry in moments that didn’t fall under his meal schedule, he was basically allowed to have some lettuce heads and that was pretty much it. What was worse is that his parents didn’t have such a strict meal plan themselves, so they would allegedly eat pizza and burgers in front of their son.
That was about the time that people began asking questions. With the increasing fame, random people started wondering what type of lifestyle Richard would have to follow away from the cameras in order to have so many muscles.
13. The Family Starts Getting Questioned
Though people were undeniably impressed by Richard’s muscles, he was still just a child. With time, people not only began asking questions, but some actually grew increasingly worried about the kid’s life away from the cameras. They specifically wondered if the young bodybuilder had any say on his strict meal and exercise regimen and whether Pavel was actually forcing his son to go through everything just for the fame.
Yet, Pavel always publicly denied any accusation related to pushing his son more than he could handle. When Richard was asked about it, he also said that the workouts and the lifestyle were “mostly his choice”, and no one forced him to do anything. He went on to continue to defend his father’s behavior.
14. Determined To Push His Limits
It was important for Richard that the world knew that his father never forced him to do anything, apparently, everything had been done in total agreement. Either way, getting to the top of one’s career does take a lot of work and dedication, especially being an athlete. Even if we aren’t athletes ourselves, it’s not hard to see the hard work and lengthy gym time that it takes to reach a certain athletic level.
In fact, several athletes have dedicated their whole lives to a specific sport, and though Richard was just eight-years-old, he was no exception. He did however differentiate himself from others, in the sense that no other person his age was that dedicated, still, he was just another athlete.
15. The Plan Had Worked
Sadly though, pushing our bodies to their extremes can come with terrible consequences, no matter how careful we may be. Many athletes have permanently injured themselves, while others develop mental health struggles as a result of their tough lifestyles. Even though Richard was quick to say that he was in fact in total control of his workouts, many people were simply not convinced.
His life was constantly changing, and as he reached the age of ten, his fame had reached an entirely different level. People from all over the world knew who “Little Hercules” was, and everyone was keen to meet him and to hear more about him and his personal life. But not everyone was as understanding and open-minded, and people were beginning to suspect something illegal was happening.
16. Reaching The Big Screen
At that point, Pavel had succeeded in his initial plan - his son had reached worldwide fame. The entire family quickly began beaming the rewards of Richard’s fame, which came in different forms. Money, of course, and the opportunity to travel all over the world at almost no expense. Richard began participating in competitions worldwide and was invited to pose in huge photoshoots.
The young bodybuilder also began making tons by becoming the ambassador for a number of big-shot brands. At some point, he also started being invited to a number of talk shows and eventually got his big break in 2009, when he was invited to star in a movie about his own life, Little Hercules in 3D.
17. The Bond Was Important
As people’s curiosity increased, Richard continued to get questions about his family and his time at home. People were particularly interested in knowing how much input his parents had in his routine, and how much autonomy he really had in his life. Richard answered the questions the same way every single time and even thanked his parents for pushing him to become the best version of himself in the bodybuilding world.
He even mentioned that if he decided, he could walk away from the whole thing, he just really didn’t want to yet. His mother also got some questions. When questioned about the way she pushed her son, she agreed with Richard and made sure to corroborate with the same story her son and her husband had shared with the world.
18. Several Passions Combined Together
Lena mentioned that she had never pushed her son to become a famous bodybuilder, the decisions were made organically and somewhat strategically. While the answer wasn’t very convincing for some people, no one had a plausible reason to continue questioning the famous family. Interestingly, as Richard continued to make headlines as a bodybuilder everywhere, at some point, he decided to go back to his roots.
Martial Arts had been his introduction to this world anyway, so it only made sense for him to return to it. He began training with his father once again, who was now teaching him how to integrate his martial arts moves into his bodybuilding regimen.
19. What Was Really Happening Here?
The combination of both sports meant that Richard became increasingly disciplined. He was known to be very focused and centered, especially when he was compared with other professionals. With his skills only becoming strengthened and broadened, literally nothing could stop Little Hercules. He was famous, had made a fortune, and seemed to only be growing from there. But that didn’t stop people from continuing to make negative comments.
Fame and fortune did unfortunately come with negativity and lots of criticism. At this point, people were not only concerned but were beginning to suspect there might be a terrible way he had gained so much fame at such a young age. They were demanding to know - what were his parents really doing to this poor boy?
20. Blaming His Parents
Fans and random people constantly blamed his parents for forcing him into this world of fame and were concerned that he was simply too young to handle it all. Some people, including professionals in the field, even came forward to share some of the long-term consequences of starting bodybuilding at such a young age.
Some even went on to fight for Richard, claiming that he deserved to create his own path and not simply follow his father’s dream by putting his body on the line. But Richard wasn’t the only one. There were other youngsters who had reached the top and received a lot of backlash for their fame, which made sense since they couldn't technically make decisions for themselves.
21. Trying To Look At The Positive Side
What people were the most concerned with was whether the fame and money were actually worth it, if that meant putting a child in such a difficult position. But thankfully, not everything was negative and not everyone had something bad to say, there were still some positive people out there who were ready to give lots of support.
They managed to see the positive effects of the situation, especially the good part of involving a child in such serious competitions. Kids learn to motivate themselves and to work hard from a young age, which can be an essential skill when adulthood comes along. In fact, some would argue that much of the current generation is missing some of that pressure.
22. Was This A Good Thing?
Another positive consequence is the fact that the children manage to make their own paycheck pretty early on, which means their future can be secured in the long term. That extra money can most certainly be useful in the future, not just for the kid, but for the entire family too.
By the looks of it, it did seem like Richard was happy with the place his career had reached and was ready to take advantage of his achievements to that point. He even managed to learn how to balance his fame and personal life, handling his fortune pretty well for such a young child, or so it seemed.
23. The Money Kept Rolling In
Almost every week, he continued to get invites from shows around the world, or brands who constantly wanted him to endorse them. In fact, it even became too much at some point, with Richard struggling to accept all offers. He was aware that without the dedication he had to the gym, he would have never reached where he did at that point.
Though his fame only seemed to increase as time passed, it wasn’t very realistic to think that it would last forever. Though he continued to get offers and a lot of interest worldwide, things started to get a bit rocky, both in his personal life and professionally. Though he had the endurance to go through it, it became way too much for a young kid.
24. The Police Finally Came Knocking
Things started taking a turn when Richard suddenly started to feel unmotivated to go to the gym. The situation also got pretty weird when Frank began feeling uncomfortable around Pavel, which made the entire process almost impossible. The world also began feeling a bit tired of constantly hearing news about Richard, so people slowly started losing interest. If that wasn’t enough, things also got pretty bad behind closed doors.
All of a sudden, Pavel made the news when he was arrested for domestic violence. With Pavel in jail, Lena was left alone to raise her son who, despite fame and fortune, was still a child. It seemed like their lives were completely falling apart.
25. The Hardest Time Of His Life
She tried her best to encourage Richard to continue his bodybuilding career, but it seemed that at that point he had enough. Lena was much less strict than her husband, which meant that she didn’t really stay on top of Richard’s workout and meal plans. Quickly, people started noticing that things weren’t going so well.
Richard started being contacted by health experts from all over the world, claiming to be worried about the effects that all of that training would have on him in the future. At that point, Richard only had 1% of body fat, which put him at risk for some serious health complications. Whether the experts were really concerned or not, the research didn't lie.
26. Taking A Toll On Him
It didn’t take long after people started some crazy rumors about Richard’s life. The thing is that even though boys start producing more testosterone as they grow, Richard was probably not going through the same body developments as other young boys. Experts were worried about him, and other people made it worse by starting rumors that it was impossible for a little boy to have so many muscles.
They claimed that Richard had taken illegal substances in order to get to where he was, which discredited the hard work he had put into his body to that date. That was really hard for Richard, he was a strong boy, but the rumors nearly destroyed him.
27. Living A “Normal” Life
The drama was definitely another reason why he continued to lose interest in the bodybuilding business. He eventually took some time off and preferred to spend his time relaxing at home, and enjoying his time in a way he had never had the opportunity to enjoy. He was a teenager now, and it was about time he got to live life as a “normal teenager”.
He began focusing on his friends and did things that other people his age did for the first time ever. It was uncharted territory for him. He did however continue to balance his fun lifestyle with some workouts every now and then, as it was hard for him to stop that completely.
28. Finally A Chance To Try Living A Normal Life
Though it was entirely his choice to walk away from bodybuilding, it took Richard some time to get used to his new life. He was used to pumping every single day, so his body was in a bit of a shock when it suddenly had so much time to rest. Still, that meant that he now had time to focus on other things in his life, things that he had never had the time to think about before.
The world was huge, and since he had made a fortune anyway, he had an array of possibilities in front of him. But one small thing continued to bug him - he had no idea what to do with his life.
29. Where To Begin?
Since his life had been mostly dedicated to the gym, he didn’t even know what else he liked to do. What he did know, however, was that he wanted to stay active. He also thought that college and an office job weren’t really up his alley. Eventually, though, Richard got an opportunity to focus on a career path. He was offered a job at Universal Studios, which he took right away.
He worked as a stuntman in Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular, which allowed him to use the countless skills he had gathered over the years. The job took a lot of bravery and skill, which made Richard incredibly happy and fulfilled.
30. His New Career In Hollywood
Sure, the job came with its risks, but he was happy. Though he did worry about his safety every once in a while, especially when the job meant that he had to deal with fire, he was still determined to succeed in that area of his life too. In fact, he shared in an interview back in 2015 that on his first day at work there were tons of security measures in place. Because he was caught off guard he was really overwhelmed but was still determined to give it a go.
Yet, it has been really hard for him to completely break away from “Little Hercules”. He did become famous worldwide thanks to that and ended up reaching places he never thought he would have reached as a child.
31. Staying Active (Just Not As Active)
To this date, he is still pretty proud of the accomplishments he’s had in his life. He claims that he is not ashamed of his life's journey, even though so many people were completely opposed to it. Though he no longer trains like he once did, the combined skills that he learned with his experience have helped him in several parts of his adult life.
Also, he is still active. Just because he no longer has the “god-like” physique he once had, doesn’t mean he doesn’t hit the gym every once in a while. In fact, exercise is still a huge part of his life today, as he doesn’t only need to stay fit for his job, but also for his health.
32. Living A Good Life
This means that Richard can still be seen working out in different places across California. He loves jogging on the beach, and also likes to exercise by going up and down the stairs. He also claims to love skateboarding and has been spotted once or twice skateboarding along the boardwalk. To stay strong, he also does pull-ups on an almost daily basis which, as a former bodybuilder, is probably not that hard.
In all honesty, Richard has lived a somewhat great life for his age. He was once famous worldwide, completed training tasks that most people would have never been able to complete, and even had a movie made about his life, what more could he want?
33. His Future Goals
Even though Richard really did make it in the world of bodybuilding, now he is determined to make it in the knowledge world. He now dreams of working for NASA one day, in one of their space programs, while training as a quantum scientist. And though this might sound like an impossible dream for some, Richard has already proved that if he puts his mind to something he can basically achieve anything.
That's not to say that the road to get there hasn't been tough. Richard lived a life that is not for the faint-hearted, especially from such an early age. Though he still vows that he did everything of his will, one cannot wonder whether it was all with his mental and physical health in mind.
34. Here He Is Today
Still, it is reassuring to see that after all that he has been through, he grew up to become such a stable and successful young adult. And according to what he has shared, he is just starting. He has already done it once, what really stops him from doing it again? In the near future, we might be seeing NASA’s newest addition, a determined and motivated young “Little Hercules”.
Whether it takes him a couple of years, or a number of decades to reach his goal, we're pretty much confident that he will reach it. And if not, there is no doubt that he has already left an impressive legacy behind him. He was once, after all, one of the most famous bodybuilders of all time, before even becoming a teenager.