The World's Strongest Boy

ByABC News
March 10, 2005, 8:16 PM

— -- This story was originally broadcast March 11, 2005.

At 8 years old, Richard Sandrak was considered the strongest human in the world, pound for pound. Weighing just 80 pounds, he could benchpress more than twice his weight. Now, at 12, Richard is already a grizzled veteran of the bodybuilding circuit.

Richard's parents were heavily involved in physical training, and their little boy seemed eager to join in. As a toddler Richard took an interest in weightlifting and within a few years, his parents took him to celebrity fitness trainer and promoter Frank Giardina and his wife, Sherry, a former Ms. Fitness America, hoping to launch a career for their son.

When Frank Giardina met Richard, he said was shocked by the boy's physique. "At first I thought, "Is this a midget? Or is this some kind of a trick photography," he said.

"Pavel [the boy's father] had told Richard to go up and hit the speed bag. So Richard jumps up in the air, kicks it three times before he hits the ground," Giardina recalled.

The Giardinas took Richard on as a client. They choreographed a flashy performance routine, but they kept Richard and what he could do a secret until they unveiled him months later at a bodybuilding event -- as Little Hercules.

Richard became an instant celebrity -- appearing in magazines and on television. He endorsed a line of supplements and became the main attraction at bodybuilding events. The money began rolling in.

"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," Giardina said.

Paraded around the country as an Arnold Schwarzenegger mini-me, Richard was pulling in thousands of dollars a month in endorsements.

On the outside, Richard seemed on top of the world. But in an interview with "20/20's" Bill Ritter, Richard describes the sad story of an isolated boy denied a childhood by a controlling and abusive father.