Created By: Pichu-kun on December 31, 2016 Last Edited By: AnitaShower on January 30, 2018

Sickly Child Grew Up Strong

An ill child grows up to be very strong or heroic

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trope
Not every badass starts out that way. This trope is when a powerful character is shown to have been an Ill Child growing up. It often serves to make the character seem even more impressive — since they've had to overcome adversity, thus demonstrating their willpower and drive — and also more sympathetic — since they were, at least at one point, an underdog.

If the character is heroic, it will usually be revealed as part of an encouraging speech telling another, weaker character that they, too, can become a hero. If the character is villainous, it is more likely to be part of a Motive Rant about how being weak taught the character the importance of strength, made them want to get revenge on those who preyed on their weakness back then, or just generally made them angry at the world.

Compare to I Got Bigger, Throwing Off the Disability, and Stronger with Age.


Examples:

Anime & Manga
  • Gaara from Naruto was born extremely small and premature. He grew up ostrasized by his entire village and family due to being a jinchuriki. After his uncle (who was the only person who showed affection towards him) tried to kill him, he snapped and turned into an Ax-Crazy Enfant Terrible. After undergoing a Heel–Face Turn, Gaara becomes an All-Loving Hero while still being as powerful as ever, to the point where he became kazekage by fifteen.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid shows this transition in detail. At the start of the story, its protagonist Vivio is a fragile 10-year-old girl who has a lot of passion for martial arts but is repeatedly told by genuinely concerned friends and relatives that pursuing that dream with her physique may be too dangerous for her health. Over the course of the series, however, Vivio slowly builds up her strength and develops her own fighting style to compensate for her inherent weaknesses. After several arcs, even her mother Nanoha (the overarching protagonist of the series and one of the most powerful combat mages of the series) acknowledges her progress by expressing readiness to spar with her at full power (again, that is — although the last time they fought, Vivio was Brain Washed And Crazy and amped up on Green Rocks).
  • Misugi of Captain Tsubasa was struck with an abnormal heart condition that left him with little stamina and occasional heart attacks, but he's still a clever soccer tactician despite that. Then, as he grows up, he gets his heart treated and he's finally healthy, and resumes his soccer career.

Comic Books
  • Wolverine was a weak, sickly child. As an adult he has a Healing Factor and is quite powerful.
  • In Superman: Red Son, Superman tells Piotr that contrary to popular belief, he was not born with his full powers, and was in fact quite sickly for most of his childhood.
  • Prior to becoming Captain America, Steve Rogers was such a weakling that he was rejected from the military.

Fan Works
  • Many Avatar: The Last Airbender fans take Ozai's line about Zuko being "lucky to be born" literally. Thus it's fanon that Zuko was born premature.
  • Pokémon: Nova and Antica: Winter as a child held no special talents of note, wasn't a good talker, had a weak body, and suffers from an Ambiguous Disorder. Nowadays, while remnants still linger, she nevertheless grew up to be a respectable Lady of War with strong Pokemon and a penchant for battling.

Film — Animation
  • Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon almost died as an infant due to being born prematurely. In the first film he starts off as a scrawny kid and a Black Sheep amongst his village. By the end of the first film, he is the first person to ever tame a dragon and is the best inventor in Berk. By How to Train Your Dragon 2 Hiccup has also grown more into himself.
  • In 101 Dalmatians Lucky actually dies shortly after birth and only a strange bit of spur-of-the-moment first aid from Roger brings him back. After recovering he becomes the most wilful and adventurous of the 15 original puppies.
  • In the two Disney Bambi films, Bambi is portrayed as very meek and slow to adapt compared to other fawns such as Faline, and gains a form of PTSD from the death of his mother by hunters. Under the care and tutoring of the Great Prince however, he starts proving more exceptionally athletic and wilful, becoming the only of the young animals able to stand up to Ronno and even overcome his Trauma Button to protect a doe from hunting dogs. By the time he is a young buck, he is a full grown Bad Ass (if still an Adorkable one), and takes his place as the next Great Prince of the Forest.

Film — Live Action
  • The Mountain Man from Cold Prey is said to have been born stillborn. As a grown up though, he became an Implacable Man, capable of surviving alone in the norwegian mountains and easily performing neck twists on his victims.
  • In Forrest Gump, Forrest is made to wear leg braces as a child to correct a curvature of the spine, with the result that he walks with an unusual gait and is bullied for his perceived disabilities. However, in the famous "Run, Forrest, Run" scene, he escapes his tormentors and reveals himself to be strong and athletic at the same time as his braces fall off- the implication being that having to carry around the weight of the braces long after they were needed (if they ever were) made Forrest very fit.

Live-Action TV
  • Doctor Who: Grant in the episode "The Return of Doctor Mysterio" is constantly ill as a young boy, which is why he swallows a crystal the Doctor asks him to hold, thinking it's medicine and grows up to be superhero The Ghost.
  • In the Criminal Minds episode "Zoe's Reprise", the Villain of the Week was often sick as a kid. He grows up to be a serial killer capable of strangling grown men with his bare hands, a feat the BAU profilers say is very difficult because of the amount of strength required over several minutes while restraining a resisting victim. The unsub is caught because he kisses his victims on the forehead, the same thing his mother used to do when he was a child to check for fever.

Literature
  • Warrior Cats:
    • In a prequel, it is revealed that Tigerclaw, the massive, strong Big Bad of the series, was the runt of his litter: he was too weak even to feed, and wasn't expected to survive his first night. His mother chose the name Tigerkit in the hope that he'd become strong.
    • Scourge, Firestar's half-brother through his father, was born a kittypet runt who was named "Tiny". His siblings often teased him due to his size. After being told that twolegs drown kittens no one wants, Scourge ran away and became a rogue. As an adult Scourge became the feared and fearsome Ax-Crazy leader of BloodClan, though he was still a small cat.
  • In The Shepherd's Crown, Geoffrey's familiar Mephistopheles is a goat who was abandoned by its mother for being too sickly; Geoffrey carefully nursed it back to health, whereupon it became a strong and ferocious yet extremely loyal goat, and also intelligent enough to learn human speech and such tricks as being able to count.
  • Clifford the Big Red Dog: Clifford was the runt of the litter but grew up to be larger than a house.
  • While not particularly strong, Hope from Firstborn was the runt of the litter. She was expected to die but ended up the Sole Survivor of her litter when the others died in a fire. Subverted with her sibling from another litter, who ended up taken by a owl.
  • A twofold example in The Grace of Kings that functions as a deconstruction of Training from Hell in martial arts stories. Phin Zyndu started life as the happy, bookish younger son of a distinguished martial aristocratic family, but all that changed after the family was either slaughtered or sold into slavery after being betrayed and framed for treason. Phin hid during the slaughter and was found by enemy soldiers, and when he cried, they spared him, mocking him as being Not Worth Killing. After this, he fled with the other surviving member, his baby nephew, Mata, and toughened himself up and brought Mata up under this harsh regimen of physical training and little affection, which Phin convinced himself that his brother/Mata's father would have wanted, in part because he hated himself for his former "weakness". The end result is that the older Phin is a Straw M Isogynist with his gentle side so suppressed between his macho "mask" as to be nonexistent, and while Mata loves his uncle and is grateful for the upbringing that gave him a Charles Atlas Superpower, he's deeply emotionally stunted and disturbingly dogmatic in his views as a result of his upbringing.
  • Stirling Howard of the Kit Kittredge series was introduced to be a rather frail, scrawny child, only to show more of his inner strength as the story went on.

Video Games
  • In Crusader Kings 2 babies can get born with the Sickly Infant trait. This does not prevent them from gaining the Brawny trait or from aquiring a high level martial education when grown up.
  • Fire Emblem Fates: Crown Prince Xander of Nohr admitted he used to be very frail, weak, and unimpressive in his youth. Now, he's one of the finest men of his kingdom.
  • In the prologue of Tales of Graces, Cheria is shown to be a sickly child, needing frequent rest and medicine. The incident towards the end of the prologue, which grants her, Huebert, and Asbel the powers they use throughout the game, gives Cheria healing powers which allows her to deal with her illness and lets her be a full member of your party.

Western Animation

Real Life
  • Theodore Roosevelt, who was sickly and asthmatic as a child and who embraced a strenuous lifestyle to overcome this, becoming a Memetic Badass in the process.

Community Feedback Replies: 49
  • December 31, 2016
    alnair20aug93
    • Theodore Roosevelt was sickly in his youth. By the time he joined the Rough Riders, he turned into a Badass.
  • January 1, 2017
    Koveras
    • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Vivid shows this transition in detail. At the start of the story, its protagonist Vivio is a fragile 10-year-old girl who has a lot of passion for martial arts but is repeatedly told by genuinely concerned friends and relatives that pursuing that dream with her physique may be too dangerous for her health. Over the course of the series, however, Vivio slowly builds up her strength and develops her own fighting style to compensate for her inherent weaknesses. After several arcs, even her mother Nanoha (the overarching protagonist of the series and one of the most powerful combat mages of the series) acknowledges her progress by expressing readiness to spar with her at full power (again, that is — although the last time they fought, Vivio was Brain Washed And Crazy and amped up on Green Rocks).
  • January 1, 2017
    lakingsif
    • Doctor Who: Grant in the episode "The Return of Doctor Mysterio" is constantly ill as a young boy, which is why he swallows a crystal the Doctor asks him to hold, thinking it's medicine and grows up to be superhero The Ghost.
  • January 1, 2017
    Dawnwing
    See also I Got Bigger.

    Literature:

    • In a Warrior Cats prequel, it is revealed that Tigerclaw, the massive, strong Big Bad of the series, was the runt of his litter: he was too weak even to feed, and wasn't expected to survive his first night. His mother chose the name Tigerkit in the hope that he'd become strong.
  • January 1, 2017
    CactusFace
    • In Crusader Kings 2 babys can get born with the Sickly Infant trait. This does not prevent them from gaining the Brawny trait or from aquiring a high level martial education when grown up.
    • The Mountain Man from Cold Prey is said to have been born stillborn. As a grown up though, he became an Implacable Man, capable of surviving alone in the norwegian mountains and easily performing neck twists on his victims.
  • January 1, 2017
    Generality
    • In One Hundred And One Dalmatians Lucky actually dies shortly after birth and only a strange bit of spur-of-the-moment first aid from Roger brings him back. After recovering he becomes the most wilful and adventurous of the 15 puppies.
    • In The Shepherds Crown, Geoffrey's familiar Mephistopheles is a goat who was abandoned by its mother for being too sickly; Geoffrey carefully nursed it back to health, whereupon it became a strong and ferocious yet extremely loyal goat, and also intelligent enough to learn human speech and such tricks as being able to count.
  • January 13, 2017
    longWriter
    The Andy Griffith Show: Barney Fife was sickly as a child, but as an adult, he was strong enough to be the town deputy.
  • January 13, 2017
    Leporidae
    Possibly an example?

    • The film The Aviator begins with Howard Hughes as a young child constantly fretted over by his mother, who is afraid he will become sick and die. He grows up to become a famous director, pilot, and businessman, but struggles all his life with germ-related OCD, eventually quarantining himself inside his private movie theater to avoid contact with the outside world.
      Mother: You know the typhus?
      Young Howard: I do, Mother.
      Mother: You know what they can do to you?
      Young Howard: Yes, Mother.
      Mother: You are not safe.
  • January 13, 2017
    Chabal2
    Kaamelott: One sickly athsmatic child sent to the same thermal springs as Arthur is now (offscreen) seven feet and two hundred pounds of barbarian warlord.
  • May 19, 2017
    Getta
  • May 19, 2017
    NateTheGreat
    In the little women series Elizabeth "Bess" Lawrence was a sickly infant; so sickly that for awhile her relatives were afraid that she would die like her namesake aunt Elizabeth "Beth" March. She grows out of it between books and by the time she reappears as a preteen nobody mentions it anymore.
  • May 19, 2017
    TonyG
    On the That70s Show episode "A New Hope", The gang get a visit from an old schoolmate who used to have asthma and scoliosis, but is now fit and handsome - and to Eric's dismay, a rival for Donna's affection.
  • May 19, 2017
    TheWanderer
    Name suggestion: Grew Up Strong
  • May 20, 2017
    Cools-The-Calm
  • May 20, 2017
    DustSnitch
    That Doctor Who example doesn't need a spoiler tag since the events it describes happen before the episode's opening credits sequence and just establish the premise of the episode.

    Would the below qualify for this or is it stretching too far?

    • The villainous protagonist of Invader Zim turns his determined arch-nemesis into a crippled, paranoid wreck throughout "Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy" by sending rubber pigs back in time to cause hundreds of nigh-lethal accidents to his enemy. By the time he's out of pigs, Zim thinks he's reduced his greatest threat to a crippled child, only for his enemy to bust into Zim's house in a house-sized robotic armor. Apparently, the enemy's dad made it to protect him from all the rubber piggy's that attacked him.
  • May 21, 2017
    Getta
  • June 29, 2017
    Getta
    • Misugi of Captain Tsubasa was struck with an abnormal heart condition that left him with little stamina and occasional heart attacks, but he's still a clever soccer tactician despite that. Then, as he grows up, he gets his heart treated and he's finally healthy, and resumes his soccer careet.
  • October 8, 2017
    Hodor2
    As a real life example, Teddy Roosevelt was sickly and asthmatic as a child, but fairly early on underwent vigorous exercise to remedy this. As per The Otherw Wiki: "Hiking with his family in the Alps in 1869, Roosevelt found that he could keep pace with his father. He had discovered the significant benefits of physical exertion to minimize his asthma and bolster his spirits. Roosevelt began a heavy regime of exercise. After being manhandled by two older boys on a camping trip, he found a boxing coach to teach him to fight and strengthen his weakened body." Later on, following the death of his first wife, he left New York to be a cowboy in North Dakota, and came back as the Memetic Badass Teddy Roosevelt known in popular history.

    Edit- Oops. I see Teddy was already suggested.

    Edit 2- Also, a twofold example in The Grace Of Kings that functions as a deconstruction of Training From Hell in martial arts stories. Phin Zyndu started life as the happy, bookish younger son of a distinguished martial aristocratic family, but all that changed after the family was either slaughtered or sold into slavery after being betrayed and framed for treason. Phin hid during the slaughter and was found by enemy soldiers, and when he cried, they spared him, mocking him as being Not Worth Killing. After this, he fled with the other surviving member, his baby nephew, Mata, and toughened himself up and brought Mata up under this harsh regimen of physical training and little affection, which Phin convinced himself that his brother/Mata's father would have wanted, in part because he hated himself for his former "weakness". The end result is that the older Phin is a Straw M Isogynist with his gentle side so suppressed between his macho "mask" as to be nonexistent, and while Mata loves his uncle and is grateful for the upbringing that gave him a Charles Atlas Superpower, he's deeply emotionally stunted and disturbingly dogmatic in his views as a result of his upbringing.

    And as another example, overlapping with Throwing Off The Disability (which I think is closely related):

    • In Forrest Gump, Forrest is made to wear leg braces as a child to correct a curvature of the spine, with the result that he walks with an unusual gait and is bullied for his perceived disabilities. However, in the famous "Run, Forrest, Run" scene, he escapes his tormentors and reveals himself to be strong and athletic at the same time as his braces fall off- the implication being that having to carry around the weight of the braces long after they were needed (if they ever were) made Forrest very fit.

  • October 13, 2017
    AndreaTx
    In the Criminal Mind's episode Zoe's Reprise, the villain was often sick as a kid. He grows up to be a serial killer capable of strangling grown men with his bare hands, a feat the BAU profilers say is very difficult because of the amount of strength required over several minutes while restraining a resisting victim. The unsub is caught because he kisses his victims on the forehead, the same thing his mother used to do when he was a child to check for fever.
  • October 17, 2017
    erazor0707
    Fire Emblem Fates: Crown Prince Xander of Nohr admitted he used to be very frail, weak, and unimpressive in his youth. Now, he's one of the finest men of his kingdom.

    Pokemon Nova And Antica: Winter as a child held no special talents of note, wasn't a good talker, had a weak body, and suffers from an Ambiguous Disorder. Nowadays, while remnants still linger, she nevertheless grew up to be a respectable Lady Of War with strong Pokemon and a penchant for battling.
  • October 18, 2017
    Theharbo
    Is the following an example?

    • Pokemon Ruby And Sapphire and their Remakes have Wally, who starts out sickly and anxiety-ridden. You help him catch his first Pokemon and as the game progresses he moves to his relatives' home in an area with cleaner air. There he attempts to challenge the nearby city's gym leader, only for you to show him that he isn't ready with his one, under-levelled Pokemon. Later in the game, you find that he has gone missing from his relatives' homenote , but the first clue that something is up with Wally is that he starts showing up on the list of people that have beaten the gym leaders before you get to challenge them yourself. He finally shows up as the penultimate trainer before the Final Boss Rush, and not only is his anxiety gone, but his team of Pokemon is absolutely one of the hardest challenges you have fought until then.

    Reason I ask is that Wally doesn't physically grow older over the course of the game, but he does grow into his own.

    Also, this trope might be related to Took A Level In Badass
  • October 18, 2017
    sablesword
    Real Life
    • Theodore Roosevelt, who was sickly and asthmatic as a child and who embraced a strenuous lifestyle to overcome this, becoming a Memetic Badass in the process.

    EDIT: Drat. Somehow I completely overlooked alnair20aug93 giving the same example at the top of the comments.
  • October 19, 2017
    erazor0707
    ^^ Wally doesn't count. If I'm interpreting this trope correctly, actual aging must be involved.

    Essentially, "sick kid evolves into strong adult/teenager/elder/etc."
  • October 20, 2017
    alnair20aug93
    ^^ That is an even better description that I had.
  • November 13, 2017
    Kaiseror
    Webcomics
    • Tsavo from Slightly Damned was a weak child who was frequently beaten by the other young orphaned demons but he eventually grew into one of the most dangerous and highly ranked members of hell's army who's work is integral to capturing living angels to use to bring more demons to Medius.
  • November 13, 2017
    Darth_Marth
    • Destiny 2: Ghaul has this as his backstory. As a child, he was outcast from Cabal society due to being a runt and albino. In the present day, he towers over the (already very large) other members of his species, and rules their society after killing his way to the top. However, it's implied that he still suffers from an Inferiority Superiority Complex, hence his insistence on earning the Traveler's approval rather than just taking it's power by force (which he has the technology to do).
  • November 13, 2017
    StrixObscuro
    Comic Books
    • In Superman Red Son, Superman tells Piotr that contrary to popular belief, he was not born with his full powers, and was in fact quite sickly for most of his childhood.
    • Prior to becoming Captain America, Steve Rogers was such a weakling that he was rejected from the military.
  • November 14, 2017
    klausbaudelaire
    • Stirling Howard of the Kit Kittredge series was introduced to be a rather frail, scrawny child, only to show more of his inner strength as the story went on.
  • November 14, 2017
    Pichu-kun
    The description really needs substance.
  • November 14, 2017
    Psi001
    • In the two Disney Bambi films, Bambi is portrayed as very meek and slow to adapt compared to other fawns such as Faline, and gains a form of PTSD from the death of his mother by hunters. Under the care and tutoring of the Great Prince however, he starts proving more exceptionally athletic and wilful, becoming the only of the young animals able to stand up to Ronno and even overcome his Trauma Button to protect a doe from hunting dogs. By the time he is a young buck, he is a full grown Bad Ass (if still an Adorkable one), and takes his place as the next Great Prince of the Forest.
  • November 15, 2017
    sgamer82
    • In the prologue of Tales Of Graces, Cheria is shown to be a sickly child, needing frequent rest and medicine. The incident towards the end of the prologue, which grants her, Huebert, and Asbel the powers they use throughout the game, gives Cheria healing powers which allows her to deal with her illness and lets her be a full member of your party.
  • November 16, 2017
    Chabal2
    Avatar The Last Airbender: Toph was born blind to a rich family, who were so overprotective of her they never noticed her Disability Superpower (she can sense earth around her and "see" objects and people around her by sensing the vibrations they make/their heartbeats) or that she came up with an entirely new form of earthbending by herself by the time she was twelve. In her father's case, it takes until about a year after she helps save the world and seeing her prevent a mine collapse by herself for him to wise up to the fact that his daughter is the greatest earthbender in history.

  • November 18, 2017
    Omeganian
  • November 18, 2017
    Kaiseror
    Surprised this hasn't been launched already.
  • December 1, 2017
    Baeraad555
    • General Riga in The Shannara Chronicles grew up suffering from crippling pains and sensitivity to light from his mother being savaged by a magical beast while he was still in the womb. As an adult, he's become a powerful warrior and a terrifying villain, with a lingering hatred of all things magical.
  • December 1, 2017
    Kaiseror
    Scurry: According to the website character page Titan was weak and sickly as a kitten but as he grew older he began to fight the other cats for dominance (and he has the scars to show for it) and is now the largest and strongest of his "herd" which he now leads with an iron fist.
  • December 2, 2017
    Kaiseror
    Someone really needs to update the description so we can launch this.
  • December 14, 2017
    Kaiseror
    Does Pichu-kun have to update the description or can anyone do that?
  • December 15, 2017
    Arivne
    The OP Pichu-kun last edited this proposal on November 16th 2017, less than a month ago. Under Up For Grabs they are still in control of it, which means they must do any substantial editing (such as updating the Description).
  • December 30, 2017
    Kaiseror
    Temeraire: When Kulingile hatched he was not only small he was also deformed and had difficulty moving and breathing to the point where the crewmembers and dragon surgeon recommended he be put down. Later it turns out his deformities were due to his unusually large airsacks and when he grew to full size he ended up being the largest and strongest dragon in all Europe who's unique airsacks have him improved stability when flying.
  • December 17, 2017
    AgProv
    Literature
    • Shadow, in American Gods was this as a child; he had a hard time and was frequently bullied until puberty set in and he gained his adult size and strength.
  • December 27, 2017
    Baeraad555
    Suggested expanded description:

    Not every badass starts out that way. This trope is when a powerful character is shown to have been an Ill Child growing up. It often serves to make the character seem even more impressive - since they've had to overcome adversity, thus demonstrating their willpower and drive - and also more sympathetic - since they were, at least at one point, an underdog.

    If the character is heroic, it will usually be revealed as part of an encouraging speech telling another, weaker character that they, too, can become a hero. If the character is villainous, it is more likely to be part of a Motive Rant about how being weak taught the character the importance of strength, made them want to get revenge on those who preyed on their weakness back then, or just generally made them angry at the world.
  • December 30, 2017
    AndreaTx
    In Man Of Steel, Martha described Clark as a sickly child who was weak and struggled so hard to breath they were constantly afraid he was on the brink of death when they put him down at night to sleep. They kept him inside for fear of what he might contract in the outside world. It wasn't until they had exhausted all their ideas that they gambled on taking him outside and letting him sit, hoping the country air would strengthen his constitution. Per Superman lore, he draws strength from the Earth's sun and gradually grew strong enough for his powers to start activating.
  • December 30, 2017
    Kaiseror
    Fables: Bigby Wolf was the tiny runt of his litter and his brothers called him The Big Bad Wolf to mock him. After his mother died and his brothers disbursed he was unable to protect his mother's body from scavengers so he made a vow that each thing he killed would be bigger than the last, this eventually caused him to grow into an elephant sized wolf that went on the kill hundreds and he even took his brothers insulting name as his own.

    And

    Mass Effect Andromeda : According to Drack, his granddaughter Nakmor Kesh was tiny and sickly when she was an infant, when she grew up she would become head engineer of the Nexus and while we never see her fight, it's implied she is more than capable of holding her own.
  • January 12, 2018
    Kaiseror
    • ''Warhammer: Gorgers are weak and sickly ogre infants thrown into tunnels beneath the mountains because the tribe dosen't want them, eventually they grow into aggressive scavengers that eat anything in their path and some ogres even utilize them in warfare.
  • January 12, 2018
    FRizer
    I think Hayate of Nanoha is also an example, but I don't know the series enough.
  • January 26, 2018
    Kaiseror
  • January 30, 2018
    TorpidDrake
  • January 30, 2018
    Kaiseror
    • A Song Of Ice And Fire: Winter the albino dire wolf was the runt of his siblings and only given to John because the larger ones were taken but when he becomes an adult he is the largest of his litter and in the tv adaptation he is one of only two survivors out of the litter.
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