The Suspected Strained Relationship Between Little Hercules And His Father

In the early 2000s, photos started going viral across the internet of a preteen boy who looked nothing like other boys of his age. The photos showed the young lad shirtless, in a pose showing off his bicep muscles — and the kid was impossibly ripped. So chiseled out of stone were Richard Sandrak's muscles that he got the nickname "Little Hercules," after the Greek god known for his mythological feats of strength. However, as The Guardian reported, Sandrak wasn't just a weird oddity in pediatric physiology: his physique, the public later learned, was the result of an impossible fitness regimen that had absolutely no place in the life of any human, let alone that of a boy who hadn't even reached puberty. Doctors were concerned that his body fat was dangerously low.

Then the story got darker. It was revealed that Sandrak's home life was toxic, that his father was abusive, and that Richard was effectively shut off from not only other children but the things children need to thrive, such as toys and free time and play.

Eventually, Sandrak's father went to prison, and Richard formed his own identity. Over the years he continued to be active in a fitness-adjacent industry — for a while at least, though from his Instagram page, it seems he's no longer carved out of stone. 

Pavel Sandrak's Insane Quest For Wealth And Fame

Pavel Sandrak was a Ukrainian martial arts champion, according to the New York Post, and as The Guardian reported, when his son, Richard, was 2 years old, the family moved to the United States with dreams of fame and fortune. He'd hired a manager, he had dreams of selling nutritional supplements, and before long, he was making money with his impossibly-ripped son, Richard, as a brand, doing the talk-show circuit.

Doctors, however, weren't convinced. For a preteen boy to be that ripped, they said, would have to have involved steroids, as the testosterone levels required for that physique wouldn't be present until puberty.

There were more causes for concern. Richard didn't go to school but was home-schooled. In 2005 ABC News reported that in an interview with 20/20, Richard's telling of his childhood illuminated how lonely it was due to his father's relentless controlling and abusive ways. And according to The Sun, his fitness routine bordered on torture; the training sessions would last hours, during which the elementary school-aged bodybuilder was reportedly expected to do 600 pushups.

Little Hercules' career as a fitness prodigy ended when he was 11 after Pavel assaulted Richard's mother and went to prison. Richard cut ties with his father at that time.

Richard Sandrak Today

In 2007, a reporter for The Guardian caught up with Richard Sandrak, at the time 15 years old. The boy, now a teen, was still into fitness but had ditched the impossibly-demanding regimens of his father. He also mentioned his father, obliquely. "My parents are my heroes because they've helped me develop throughout my life," he told his interviewer. His manager, who was present in the room, prompted Richard to clarify that by his parents, he meant his mother.

In May 2015, Inside Edition spoke with Sandrak, 23 at the time. Interviewer Jim Moret described him as still physically fit, but that he no longer looked like he was chiseled out of granite and indeed, his abdomen showed the tiniest bit of pudge. As for his career? Back then he said, "I set myself on fire," referring to an aspect of his career as a Hollywood stunt performer, which also included frequent 50-foot falls. It's not clear whether he's still a stuntman, but there is nothing on his Instagram page to make one think that's the case. His bio says, "Fire bad. Water good. Me no like humans."

In the 2015 interview though, he didn't mention his father directly. He did, however, admit that his past, toxic though it may have been, is a part of who he is. "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," he said.