Born in Ukraine, Richard Sandrak emigrated to the U.S. with his parents when he was a small child and became an American. Now 24, he lives in Hollywood, California, and the reason is no accident: in fact, you might remember him…

After arriving in Pennsylvania, his father began training Richard at the gym, keeping him on a strict no-fat, no-sugar diet as well. Despite his age the child began developing muscle mass more normal for an adult bodybuilder. On one level it wasn’t surprising: both his parents had been prize-winning athletes (his father in martial arts and his mom in aerobics).

Watch the video for a glimpse of the boy bodybuilder and the thoughtful young man he’s become:

But now his dad smelled money and moved the family West looking for an entree for Richard in show business. He even hired a personal trainer for the kid, who became a local celebrity before long.

He got the nickname “Little Hercules” and his striking physique attracted the cameras. By eight years old, Richard was known internationally.

In the midst of all the action there was still a little boy, however, a boy without a childhood. He didn’t have a moment of freedom, no friends his age, no time to just play. He had to do 600 push ups and 300 squats a day. His trainer, a guy called Frank, was concerned about him and went so far as to call the father’s behavior “criminal.”

While Frank didn’t think this was any life for a child and stopped working with him, Mr. Sandrak denied that he had ever forced his son to do something against his will.

Of course, as many people know, parents can pressure their kids without ever explicitly “forcing” them. The manipulation and exploitation of children has many faces, not only obvious coercion! Most children want — and need — their parents’ attention so they’ll even do extreme things to get it.

When Richard turned 11, however, his father was jailed on charges of domestic violence. It was a huge turning point in the life of Little Hercules. He stopped his training and started being a regular kid — soon, a regular teenager.

Ultimately he followed his own path, though you can see he uses some of the talents he displayed so early in life. Richard lives in Hollywood and works as a professional stuntman, getting set on fire and jumping off a building for Universal Studios' Water World show.

He lives a balanced life — no more extreme weight-lifting, not even a gym membership! And when asked what his future holds now, he gave quite a surprising answer: he wants to become an engineer for NASA.