At 8-feet 5-inches tall, Leonid Stadnik is uncomfortable in his ill-fitting shoes, his bulky clothes and his horse-drawn cart, but he is really uncomfortable in the spotlight as the world's tallest man.
The reclusive Stadnik, who is 37 and lives in Podoliantsi, Ukraine, was given the title last August by the Guinness World Records. Stadnik isn't celebrating. "How would anyone like it?" he said. "There are problems with shoes and clothing. It's all so problematic."
But it doesn't have to be that way.
For the man who lost the lofty title to Stadnik, being crowned the world's tallest man was a blessing.
At a mere 7 feet, 9 inches, Bao Xishun, a Mongolian sheepherder, was delighted with the his celebrity status when he held the record in 2006 and 2007.
Before he was recognized by the Guinness World Records, Bao led a solitary life as a human skyscraper. "I felt lonely. I just felt I was different, I was abnormal. I felt isolated in that status," he said.
Meeting His Match
When the record book learned of his height, Bao Xishun was flooded with more than attention. Companies sent him shoes, tailormade clothing, and a furniture company made his bed. The spotlight soon brought him endorsements, fame and even the confidence to try to find love.
His friends placed an ad in a local paper in hopes that the right woman would surface. "They put in the ad, because I felt I needed help. I am not young anymore, and I am so tall," Bao said. "So my friends helped me."
The ad traveled around the world, but it turned out that Bao's future wife was literally the girl next door, a sales clerk from the neighborhood in Chifeng. This past July, Bao, 56, and Xia Shujian, 28, wed in a traditional Mongolian ceremony with 500 guests and all the fanfare and media one would expect of a world record holder. Bao's new wife -- who barely reaches his waist -- says that his stature gives her a "sense of security."
Stadnik was reputedly 8 inches taller than Bao. But we wanted to see that for ourselves, so ABC News' David Muir traveled halfway around the world to find Stadnik and see what life looks like from that towering height. Stadnik said that he is uncomfortable with his new celebrity and just wants to live his life away from the hype. "I am a farmer. I work the land," he said. "It is not my doing that I'm tall. It is God's doing."
Born to a mother who is 5 feet tall and a father who is 5 feet, 8 inches, Stadnik grew up on the small side. Kids at school used to make fun of him because he was so small. His rapid growth didn't start until he was 10, and he continued to grow well into his 30s.
Dr. James Sperber, Stadnik's American doctor, found out about his case and reached out to Stadnik through letters. He eventually flew to Ukraine to meet him. He discovered that Leonid was suffering from pituitary gigantism: a benign tumor in the pituitary gland that produces too much growth hormone. Left untreated, this condition could be fatal, but Stadnik was lucky that his tumor had "died," according to the doctor, leaving him alive but taller than everyone.
The Tallest of All
So just how tall is Leonid Stadnik?
Well, if you think Yao Ming's size 18 sneakers are huge, they are petite compared with Stadnik's custom-made size 26. Not even the largest car in his village can accommodate him, so he uses a horse drawn carriage to get around. Just forget about doorways; there has never been one he didn't have to duck down to get through.
His prized possession is his computer, which he uses for the Internet, although the keys are tiny for his fingers and typing an e-mail is time-consuming.
Everyone knows Stadnik in his small village, but then again, everyone knows everyone.-- Stadnik stands out, but people don't treat him any differently. Since his discovery by Guinness World Records, things have changed, and strangers have come to see and meet the tallest man in the world.
And when you meet him you get the sense that Stadnik is looking forward to the time when things are back to normal. He'll continue to have to deal with the challenges that come with his particular condition, but to the people of Podoliantsi, he's just another farmer down the road.
Perhaps his record-book status will help him find love as well, the way it helped Bao, who no longer holds the title of world's tallest man but proudly holds hands with the wife he never thought he'd have.