The Little Hercules Boy Is Not Quite As Herculean These Days

Little Hercules is all grown up. If you're having trouble recalling who, exactly, that is, think back to the early 2000s when a small and very strong young bodybuilder named Richard Sandrak took over the internet, impressing and terrifying people with muscles that looked like they belonged on a much older person.

Also known as "The World's Strongest Boy," which was also the name of a 2004 documentary about Sandrak, ABC reported that, at the tender age of 8, Sandrak weighed 80 pounds and could bench press more than twice that, making him "the strongest human in the world, pound for pound."

Sandrak reportedly developed an interest in weightlifting as a toddler, inspired by his own athletic parents. His parents encouraged his interest, and eventually hired promoter and celeb trainer Frank Giardina and his wife, former Ms. Fitness America Sherry Giardina, hoping that they could help channel his weightlifting talent into a career.

Little Hercules quickly became famous for his strength

Giardina told ABC he couldn't believe his eyes when he first set eyes on the young Sandrak. "At first I thought, 'Is this a midget? Or is this some kind of a trick photography,' he recounted. He was quickly won over by Sandrak's strength and signed the young bodybuilder.

It was a shrewd business move on the part of the Giardinas, who were the ones to introduce Sandrak to the world as Little Hercules. It wasn't long before the pint-sized bodybuilder was a hit. Sandrak landed endorsements — to the tune of thousands of dollars each month — and became an internet sensation.

Fans turned out in droves to see Sandark at bodybuilding events. "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," said Frank Giardina of the impressive turnout.

Little Hercules had a difficult childhood

But Sandrak's life wasn't as charmed as it seemed. His father, Pavel, was sent to prison for beating up his wife, Lena, when Sandrak was 11 (per The Sun).

Some suspected that Sandrak himself was also abused by his father. While Lena told The Guardian in 2007 that she was "concerned" about how Pavel treated Sandrak, she denied that he was pressured to become a bodybuilder or that he was abused. The outlet noted that some of the things he endured at the hands of his father were horrific, though, such as being made to sleep on the ground to help with his posture and not being allowed to play with other kids until he was 10.

Giardina was also concerned for his young client, In a 2003 interview (via Your Daily Dish) he said that Sandrak "had no toys at home." He added, "He had no bicycle. He had no skateboard. He never was allowed to go outside. He never went to the park."

Many people suspected that Little Hercules took steroids

According to The Guardian, there was even speculation that Sandrak's large muscles were not merely the product of hard work. The outlet noted that medical professionals were skeptical that Sandrak could have developed such a physique at such a young age without the help of steroids — something Lena adamantly denied, saying that her son trained for several hours each day. 

Sandrak, then 15, maintained that he was not mistreated. "I've never been forced to train or do anything against my will," he told the outlet. "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." 

He added, "I have to say my parents are my heroes because they've helped me develop throughout my life," although he quickly clarified this statement after his manager pointed out that "his father [was] no longer in the picture." Said Sandrak, "I meant my mom."

Little Hercules left bodybuilding

After everything that happened in his childhood home, and the fact that he was never able to have a normal childhood but grew up in the limelight, it's no wonder that Sandrak eventually left bodybuilding behind. In 2015, Sandrak, then 23, had a much less intimidating build. "I don't lift weights anymore, it got boring to me," he told Inside Edition.

Sandrak still defended his upbringing, although it came out that he was no longer in contact with his father. "People seemed to try to make me out to be a freak of nature but there were many kids who had similar physiques," he said.

After leaving his bodybuilding days behind him, Sandrak got a job at the Universal Studios Waterworld show in Los Angeles where his job duties included setting himself on fire several times a day. He told the outlet that rather than lifting weights, he stayed in shape with chin ups and riding his skateboard. He added that he dreamed of being "a quantum scientist" and "maybe even an engineer for NASA."

Little Hercules has fallen off the radar

Since that 2015 interview, Sandrak has kept a low profile. He doesn't seem to have any verified public social media accounts, although there are plenty of dupes out there pretending to be Little Hercules. A LinkedIn profile under his name lists Sandrak as a stunt performer at Universal Studios and Action Horizon, but there are no years associated with either position, and the profile is sparse on details and doesn't even have a profile picture, so it's possible that Sandrak didn't even set it up himself or that it's out of date.

Hopefully, Sandrak is still out there chasing his dreams and is living the peaceful life that he wanted. We know that he's at least financially set — according to Celebrity Net Worth, he has an estimated $400 million.

While Sandrak has left his past behind, he didn't seem to have any regrets at his last interview. "I am very proud of my past; it is not something I don't want anyone to know anymore," he told Inside Edition. "I am just not stuck living in it any more."