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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In the 101 Dalmatians film, Lucky was a Composite Character of Lucky from the books and an Adapted Out female named "Cadpig", with Cadpig being the runt who was nearly born stillborn in the book. Lucky was made into a Decomposite Character in 101 Dalmatians: The Series when Cadpig was brought back. Cadpig is a small puppy but is a Super-Strong Child.
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