Previously Known For: The World’s Strongest Boy and Little Hercules 3D
|Currently Known For: As a Stuntman at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular|
“I’m very proud of my past. It’s not something I don’t want people to know, it’s just that I’m not going to be stuck living in it.” Hailing from a small village in the Ukraine, Richard Sandrak came into this world on April 15, 1992 as the only son of a martial arts world champion named Pavel Sandrak and his wife, an aerobics instructor named Lena. Because of his parent’s keen interest in fitness and their own competitive streak, Sandrak was no stranger to the gym and spent much of his early childhood watching his parents train hour after hour until he was strong enough to start lifting weights on his own.
After his parents emigrated from the Ukraine and settled in Pennsylvania in the early 1990s, Sandrak started his own training regimen under the watchful eye of his father who taught him a variety of stretches, a few martial arts techniques, and proper form for light weight training. By then, expectations for Sandrak’s greatness was incredibly high as the family relocated to California where Pavel hoped he or his son could break into show business and pursue the American dream of fortune and fame. Luckily, Sandrak didn’t have to wait long when Pavel introduced him to a trainer and local gym owner named Frank Giardina who signed on as his trainer and manager.
After years of lifting weights and working on various martial arts techniques, Sandrak was six years old and could bench press 180 pounds when most kids his age were chasing their friends around the playground, watching movies and sharing junk food. Dubbed “Little Hercules” and earning the title as the “World’s Strongest Boy,” Sandrak was the envy of most adult bodybuilders as he continued to raise the bar for himself. At eight years old, he could bench press a jaw-dropping 210 pounds as his father coached him into full-time bodybuilding with a daily routine of 600 push-ups, 600 sit-ups and 300 squats every day without fail.
As Sandrak’s strength blossomed, the media couldn’t help but wonder about the youngster who had obviously been robbed of his childhood with his father’s gruesome parenting style that often left Sandrak snacking on a head of lettuce as Pavel ate pizza in front of him. Then, after months of watching Sandrak train under Pavel’s watchful eye, Giardina had seen enough after Pavel forced Sandrak to repeat vigorous exercises until they were perfect. However, Sandrak refused to admit that his father forced him into the sport saying, “I’ve never bene forced to train or do anything against my will. My parents 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.”
Sandrak continued to break weightlifting records as he traveled across the country competing and endorsing various fitness and nutrition products. He made guest appearances on numerous television and radio shows like The Howard Stern Show, shared his own story in The World’s Strongest Boy documentary, and made his silver screen debut in the 2009 film, Little Hercules in 3D. However, as his popularity soared, Giardina became more and more concerned with Sandrak’s health and well-being and, after years of watching quietly from the sidelines, stepped down from his role as Sandrak’s manager and coach. This, in turn, ignited Pavel’s fury and he threatened to have Giardina killed, which only worsened the tension at home as Pavel took out his frustration on Lena and left her with a broken nose and wrist as Sandrak called the police from the safety of his bedroom.
Pavel was arrested and spent the next few weeks in prison facing deportation before he was released under psychiatric guidance in September 2007. By then, Sandrak questioned his genuine interest in weight training and, after he and his mother left Pavel to fend for himself, he hired a new trainer who lowered the intensity of his workouts and encouraged Sandrak to find a balance between his life in and out of the gym. For the first time in his entire life, Sandrak lived like a normal teenager and enjoyed pizza and hot dog dinners with his friends as he showed off his ability to do the splits and bench press three times his own body weight.
After starring in Little Hercules in 3D, Sandrak made guest appearances in The Legends of Nethiah and Assassin Priest before realizing that there was far more to life than lifting weights. In fact, he gave up weightlifting and, after years of training five times a week for 90 minutes each session, he took more time off to raise awareness about the realities of childhood obesity. He exchanged his time in the gym for skateboarding and happily told Inside Edition in 2015 that, “No, I don’t lift weights because, if anything, it just got boring… I’m very proud of my past. It’s not something I don’t want people to know, it’s just that I’m not going to be stuck living in it.”
Sharing his dreams of one day becoming a quantum scientist or an engineer for NASA, Sandrak is determined to prove that he isn’t the freak of nature that so many have shown him to be as he separates himself from his father’s dream and creates his own. “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. Ultimately, Sandrak admits that his intensive training kept him out of trouble and away from drugs and alcohol that so often prevents teens from achieving greatness. “Most teens who get involved in that don’t end up with successful careers in any good business,” he says. “They end up working at McDonalds and that’s not a life I want for myself.”
Instead, Sandrak has built a life he’s proud of as the former “Little Hercules” and “The World’s Strongest Boy.” Today, the 25-year-old bodybuilder, martial artist and actor spends his days at Universal Studios Hollywood where he works as a stuntman in the Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular show. Spending his days in a wetsuit and catching fire as he’s launched through the air and into a deep pool, Sandrak says his new gig as an aquatic Superman isn’t so bad after all. As for what’s next on his list, he’s still toying with the idea of working for NASA which, when considering his incredible feat at such an early age, doesn’t seem that far out of reach!