"I used to be an adventurer like you. Then I took an arrow in the knee."
A Career-Ending Injury is a sudden and unexpected injury or illness that causes a disability to a person and forces them to give up their ambitions and dreams.
Usually this trope involves an athlete getting an injury, but the career can be anything that requires physical and/or mental ability. Likewise, what causes the disability can be something other than an injury (for example, a disease) - the important point is that it prevents the character from achieving their goals by causing a disability.
A variation is where a previously known condition or illness worsens unexpectedly to a point where the character is no longer fit for his/her career.
Sometimes the injury is part of the backstory, but if it happens during the course of the main story, expect Angst
Very much a Truth in Television
. In circles such as the police or the military this is sometimes sardonically called "earning a desk job".
The injury may have started as a Game-Breaking Injury
. Compare White-Dwarf Starlet
and I Coulda Been a Contender
, common results of this trope, Sorry Billy, But You Just Don't Have Legs
, where the character is disabled to start with instead of becoming so during their career, and Crippling the Competition
, where this trope is invoked. If the character overcomes the injury, either temporarily or permanently, then they're Back in the Saddle
. If the injury isn't just career ending but life
ending, then it's an example of Fatal Method Acting
This is sometimes set up as a twist or a reveal
, so beware of spoilers.
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Anime and Manga
- In The Animatrix short "World Record", a sprint runner almost exits the Matrix during the record-breaking sprint but is pulled back inside, where his mind decides he has ran past his body capacities and breaks said body. He is left in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
- In Gunnm, Alita's motorball trainer used to be a racer but had to retire after overuse of reflex-boosting drugs damaged his nervous system. Subverted for Jasugun who knows his brain is dying from being tampered with too much but chooses to die on the track as a champion.
- Rideback: Rin gives up being a ballerina due to physical (and mental) injuries caused by a fall.
- In Berserk:
- Gutts's foster father has to retire as an active mercenary after a messy leg injury.
- Averted for Gutts himself - you would think that losing a hand would end the career of a fighter who specialises in two-handed weapons, but he is stubborn enough to learn to handle the sword using prosthetic hand. (A magnet in the hand helps him maintain the grip.)
- Gerd in Blassreiter was a racing champion who got half-paralyzed. And then ditched by his girlfriend. And then agreed to try an "experimental healing".
- When the manga H2 begins, baseball players Hiro & Noda both believe they've suffered such injuries. Hiro to his arm, Noda to his back. They soon discover, though, that their supposedly great doctor was unlicensed and they are, in fact, perfectly healthy.
- Future GPX Cyber Formula
- Almost happens to Hayato and Randoll in the ZERO arc when they suffered serious injuries in a crash at the British GP. They got better and they return to racing (although Randoll takes longer to come back than Hayato).
- In Bootsvorz's backstory, a nasty crash at a test drive resulted in losing his left eye and arm, but he returned to racing after gaining a new arm and eye.
- Johji Ohtomo quits CF racing after a crash at the German GP that was indirectly caused by Hayato's Super Asurada 01 crashing into Ohtomo's car and he suffers serious injuries as a result.
- A racer named John Cleeve has his racing career ended in a car accident, but it happened outside the race track.
- In Hajime No Ippo, Nekota was forced to give up boxing after an illegal punch from his opponent resulted in permanent mid-brain damage and punch-drunk syndrome, although he experienced the symptoms of the latter before the fight (it was from a fight with his friendly rival).
- Happens more than once in the case of fighters with "glass jaws", like Miyata's father and Ryuuichi Hayami.
- Detective Conan:
- In the Non-Serial Movie The Fourteenth Target, the murderer is revealed to be a sommelier whose taste buds were destroyed in an accident, taking revenge on the people who ended his career.
- Similarly, in the Non-Serial Movie Captured in Her Eyes, the culprit is a surgeon who had the tendons of his right hand intentionally severed by a jealous colleague during a surgery. He switched to become a therapist, but later killed the one who ruined his career... and others who either were involved or found out... and then Ran became his target, since she witnessed what was supposed to be his last kill.
- In Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, one of the competitors is a famous British football player who fears that his recent injury will become one of these, which is why he's after the secret to eternal life.
- Bleach has a unique variant for the shinigami. If their blade is damaged or destroyed while in its Bankai state, it will be permanently weakened. Depending on the damage suffered it may be partially repaired or the damage worked around, but the shinigami will never be as strong as they were. However, later chapters introduce workarounds for this, and the bankai can heal/repair as the master heals if the user and bankai are deeply connected (ed. Kommamura).
- In Ojamajo Doremi, both Haruka Harukaze and Mio Segawa went through this trope when young and, as a result, had to give up on their piano playing and Idol Singer careers, respectively.
- In Captain Tsubasa, this is the reason why Roberto Hongo left soccer. During one of his best matches, he was hit in the head and near his eyes; the brain and optical never damage he sustained severely limited his eyesight, and he had to retire from soccer. He was this close to cross the Despair Event Horizon, but Tsubasa and his family helped him through and, in a few years, he built a new career as a soccer coach.
- In Detective Academy Q, an Elegant Classical Musician lost her fingers to frostbite when she was caught in a cruel trap coming from her fellow classmates. (They all trained under ther same violin teacher and former classical music star.) With her career in tatters, the woman commited suicide out of despair — and her boyfriend killed the others, both as revenge and to make sure that their master's prized Stradivarious violin would not go to the ones who caused his beloved's death.
- In Banana Fish, Eiji was a talented pole vaulter until he suffered an unspecified injury.
- Stephen Strange was a gifted surgeon who lost the dexterity in his hands in a car accident. His quest for a cure eventually led him to the Ancient One, who taught him the mystic arts.
- Barbara Gordon was shot by the Joker and paralyzed in The Killing Joke. Her paralysis ended her career as Batgirl. She then renamed herself Oracle and began to create one of the world's most powerful and complex computer systems.
- The eponymous Roy Race in the British (association) football strip Roy Of The Rovers was forced to end his playing career after a helicopter crash that cost him his left foot.
- Similarly, Nick Jarvis from Striker was also forced to end his career when a shark bit his leg. He just barely avoided amputation.
- Ballistic of Cyberforce was the ace pitcher of her state champion high school baseball team (yes, playing with and against boys). She was likely bound for the big leagues, until an abusive boyfriend left her with a paralyzed throwing arm.
- Similarly, "Calamity" James Wa of The Order was a track and baseball star throughout high school and into his college years, due to his phenomenal running speed. He was even on the cover of Sports Illustrated, referred to as "the boy most likely to succeed." Not long after, he lost his legs in a car accident.
- Curt Connors was a battlefield surgeon with the US Army before losing his right arm to an explosion, which lead to him becoming a scientist trying to re-generate his arm and eventually turning into the Lizard.
- Sebastian in The Greatest Show on Earth ends his career as a trapeze artist from performing a dangerous trick.
- Subverted in Unbreakable. The titular character supposedly had an injury that made it impossible for him to continue playing football, but he faked it because he's, well, unbreakable.
- Halfway through Cars, Lightning discovers that Doc Hudson was actually the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, a legendary racecar. Doc ultimately explains that the only reason he "quit" racing was because he suffered a major crash during a race. By the time he could race again, the racing industry merely brushed him off without a second thought.
- Million Dollar Baby has a very heart-wrenching one of these near the end of the movie. A nasty cheap shot from behind results in Maggie's neck being broken when she lands on a corner stool, resulting in her being paralyzed from the neck down. As boxing was her passion and her life and she will never be able to fight again, Maggie wants to die, and her mentor ultimately makes the decision to give her an assisted suicide.
- The Rookie (which is Based on a True Story) is about a baseball player trying to come back after a supposed one of these. He made it to the major leagues... then suffered the same injury again, over ten years after the initial injury.
- Remember the Titans has the automobile accident that ends the football career of star linebacker Gerry Bertier.
- Varsity Blues had its main plot kick off with one of these, with the star Quarterback suffering a knee injury in this form. It's later revealed that he'd sustained a lot of knee injuries, but Coach Klimer had talked him out of getting it treated by a doctor and instead gave him shots of painkillers so he could continue playing.
- At the beginning of Shaolin Soccer the man who will become the coach to our heroes is a jerkass soccer superstar until the teammate he's been lording it over hires people to cripple the star.
- In Forrest Gump, Lieutenant Dan has to leave the army after losing his legs in Vietnam. He had an ancestor die in "every single American war" and believed the same was supposed to happen to him, so being left alive but unable to fight turns him into an alcoholic mess for a long time.
- Gattaca: the guy whose DNA the protagonist is using used to be an athlete until an undisclosed incident confined him to a wheelchair. The incident was that he was bred (DNA-wise) as a champion athlete and only achieved a silver medal in the Olympics. He tried to commit suicide and only succeeded in paralyzing himself.
- Joe's knee injury in Bend It Like Beckham, which was caused by his father pushing him too hard.
- Danny Glover's Jaded Washout character in Angels in the Outfield had his career cut short because the villainous sportscaster character deliberately slid into home with his spikes up when they were playing each other years before.
- In the initial timeline of Back to the Future Part 2, a car accident ends Marty's rock career before it even took off the ground.
- In Red Tails, Deacon is badly burned in a crash, and is sent home. Junior is half-blinded and should have been grounded, but talks Lightning into putting him back on flying status. He gets shot down soon afterwards.
- In Diggstown, Caine finds out that the once-great boxer Charles Macom Diggs (for whom the titular town is named), was poisoned by Gillon when Diggs refused to throw a fight. The poison and the resulting injuries from the fight paralyze Diggs for life. He manages to move his hand slightly during Roy's climactic fight, giving Roy strength to continue.
- Walter Cochran in The Replacements. As he explains to Shane, he played one game in the pros, blew out his knee, and then he was done. Now he's a man of God and wants nothing more than to score a touchdown before retiring for good.
- In the Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet, Watson has returned to England after having been shot in Afghanistan. This sets him up to meet the world's only consulting detective... and the rest is history.
- A major plot point in A Separate Peace.
- Happens several times in Warrior Cats. For the most part, the cat is already considerably old when it happens:
- Stonepelt retires early due to a shoulder injury that didn't heal properly.
- Longtail also retires early when he goes blind from infected scratched eyes.
- The most notable example in the series, though, is Cinderpelt, whose hind leg was permanently damaged when she was hit by a car when she was only an apprentice. She dreamed of being a warrior, but decided to serve her Clan as a medicine cat after it became clear her leg would never heal.
- Another major example is Briarlight, whose spine was broken when a tree fell on her just before she was about to receive her warrior name. Though she survived, her paralyzed hindlegs made her unable to fight or even move around much, so she just helped out around the camp, especially in the medicine cat's den.
- In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Daisy is forced to retire as a ballet dancer after a hit by a cab breaks her leg.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Bran gets pushed out of a window and is paralyzed from the waist down, destroying any possibility of his ever being a knight.
- Willas Tyrell, the heir to Highgarden, was a promising knight until his leg got crushed in a tournament.
- Jaime Lannister, also known as the best swordsman in Westeros loses his sword-hand, and so far has made little progress at learning to fight left-handed.
- Johnny Tremain burns his hand early in the story, meaning he can't be a silversmith.
- In Still Alice, Alice has to retire early because she develops Alzheimer's Disease.
- In Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, Diana was a former opera singer who developed vocal cord nodules at the height of her career, forcing her to quit singing. This causes her to become a Stage Mom to her daughter, the protagonist, who is a violin prodigy.
- In The Flight Engineer trilogy Commander Peter Raeder, a fighter pilot, had to be retrained as an engineering duty officer (chief fighter mechanic, specifically) after losing a hand in battle. Later in the series an improved prosthesis gives him the dexterity to fly Speeds again and he's cleared to fly in emergencies.
- Late in the book Through Alien Eyes from the The Color Of Distance series, Ukatonen takes a horrible blow to the head. Even when he's healed, the centuries of skill he's gained in healing and transformation are badly damaged and he can no longer control and soothe those he's linking with, or keep them out.
- John Watson has been invalidated home from Afghanistan due his shoulder injury in Sherlock. His return to England and subsequent need for a flatshare kicks off his first meeting with Sherlock and the rest of the series.
- A plot point of Danny Messer's backstory in CSI NY. He was an aspiring baseball player, but an arm injury forced him to quit. (a storyline incidentally drawn from the actor's real life background).
- The series is centered on a Naval Aviator named Harmon Rabb, Jr. He was a carrier fighter pilot, following in his father's footsteps, until he crashed his plane in a night landing on an aircraft carrier due to an undiagnosed vision problem. In order to stay in the Navy, he went to law school and became a judge advocate (military lawyer).
- Also at the end of season 7, Bud Roberts steps on a landmine in Afghanistan and has to struggle throughout the next two seasons to remain in the Navy.
- Space: Above and Beyond has Lieutenant Colonel T.C. McQueen, who was an elite fighter pilot before he suffered a debilitating head injury in combat. He has enough experience to warrant making him a squadron commander, acting in the role of Mission Control for his young pilots.
- White Collar's Peter Burke was a professional baseball player when he tore his rotator cuff. The injury healed just fine and he was able to play baseball again, though a doctor advised him he could re-injure. Rather than risk losing both his baseball career and the possibility of joining the FBI, Peter opted to quit baseball and simply join the FBI.
- It happens a couple of times on M*A*S*H.
- In one episode, a football player has to have his leg amputated.
- In another, a concert pianist loses dexterity in his hand.
- In the pilot for Friday Night Lights Jason is paralyzed in an injury ending his planned career as a football player.
- In an episode of Bones where the Victim of the Week is a professional motorcycle racer, one of the suspects is a paraplegic former racer whom the victim had "accidentally" caused to crash in a previous race.
- In Blind Justice the protagonist is a police officer who is blinded due to an injury he sustains in the line of duty. This would normally end his career but he manages to subvert the trope by suing the police department to get his job back.
- Tony Micelli of Whos The Boss was a professional baseball player before a shoulder injury.
- Monk was able to manage his OCD until his wife's death caused a breakdown that made the condition much worse. This ends his career as a police officer.
- Frasier's dad Martin's bullet to the hip ended his police career.
- Cheers established this as the reason Sam left baseball...with a twist.
Diane:So, why aren't you playing anymore?
Sam:I developed an elbow problem.
Diane:An elbow problem?
Sam:Yeah. Bent it too much.
Mimes drinking from a bottle.
- Jimmy Brooks from Degrassi was shot in the lower back and paralyzed in a school shooting, forcing him to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life and ending any chances of a basketball career. One Degrassi mini showed that had Jimmy never been shot, he would have recieved a scholarship for playing basketball.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, all guards share a pool of random sentences, which any of them can say. One of those is the page quote, making it sound like this is the backstory for every single guard. An alternate line spoken by a Stormcloak soldier is that he took a sword to the chest which forced an end to his adventuring career. Parodied in the Dragonborn DLC, where a Khajiit NPC will mention he also used to be an adventurer...until he found a ball of yarn.
- Dead Island: the back story for Logan, an ex-football star.
- Jagged Alliance 2 has an Alumni page on the AIM (Association of International Mercenaries) website, where among the retired, KIA and dishonorably discharged there are also those who suffered injury or had failing health.
- This is revealed as the back story reason for why Jack Krauser faked his death and defected to Wesker's side in Resident Evil The Dark Side Chronicles. Krauser used to be a special ops soldier who worked alongside Leon but during the course of the mission, a viral entity crippled his arm. Krauser eventually sought out Wesker, who provided a way to heal his arm; out of gratitude, Krauser now serves Wesker as his special agent (even got a sweet mutated arm blade out of the deal).
- In Mass Effect 3, Thane's terminal illness known as Kepral's Syndrome finally reaches a point where Thane can no longer reliably perform his job as an assassin. However, this doesn't stop him from intervening to save the salarian Councilor when Kai Leng and Cerberus attacks, though the disease does slow him down to the point that he is badly wounded, and the injury itself will eventually kill him.
- In Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops this is given as the backstory for Lieutenant Cunningham of FOX, a CIA sponsored black ops organization, as he used to be a soldier during Vietnam but suffered an injury to his leg that required it to be amputated thus ending his career. During the story he expresses resentment towards the CIA for giving him a desk job after his injury when he used to be a distinguished warrior. A common theme in the overall story of the Metal Gear games is that soldiers are mistreated by their governments, Cunningham being downsized is viewed as another example of this ideal.
- This happens to anyone in later Fire Emblem games that "dies" but is too critical to the plot to be removed (and doesn't cause a Game Over when defeated, as happens to the main characters.) Everyone else is subject to Final Death.
- Shotglass, the bartender from the first Wing Commander game, used to be a pilot before he got shot up so bad he couldn't fly. Serving drinks is his way of continuing to do his bit.
- In his route of In Your Arms Tonight, promising ceramics artist Soji Higayashima has his right hand severely injured in a car accident. The damage is bad enough to impair the mobility of his hand, making him unable to continue in his art. His epilogue suggests that with physical therapy he will recover enough to resume his work.
- In Worm, the Director of the local PRT, Piggot, used to be a field agent before she lost her kidneys in a particularly nasty Charlie Foxtrot of an operation.
- Doubt Academy: White uses the threat of this as its second motive. Monobear tells the students that unless a murder occurs within a week, he'll randomly select one of the students and cripple them in a way that'll ruin their SHSL Talent.
- The plot of "no expectation of returns" from You Could Make A Life is about an NHL player trying to help his best friend cope after a wrist injury ends his hockey career.
- Kick Buttowski's mother Honey Splash ended her career as a speedboat stuntster because she tore her tendanacious ligamental flexor. Kick encourages her to try again years later, but the injury flares up at a plot appropriate moment.
- Bruce from Batman Beyond gives up crime fighting due to a heart condition. On its own it probably wouldn't mean much, but the circumstances caused him to point a gun at someone.
- Played for Laughs in the VeggieTales story "Sumo of the Opera", where Mikey used to be in wrestling until he injured his knee. He's a grape.
- Ōban Star-Racers: Rick Thunderbolt, the original earth team pilot, is seriously injured in his first race, leaving him with a nervous system that freezes up at inopportune moments. After some episodes moping about it he eventually agrees to help train Molly as his replacement.
- Littlest Pet Shop (2012): In "Lotsa Luck" Mrs. Twombly ended her career in "kung-fu quilting" when she tore a tendon in her foot after winning a tournament.
- In one the most well-known examples from the NFL, Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theisman was forced to retire after a Monday Night Football game in 1985. On a failed attempt to trick the New York Giants' defense, Theisman was sacked by all-pro linebacker Lawrence Taylor. As Taylor forced Theisman to the ground, his knee came down on Theisman's leg and snapped the tibia and fibula. While this incident helped cement Taylor's fearsome reputation, Taylor himself was clearly horrified and immediately leapt up and called for medical assistance for Theisman as soon as the play ended.
- Lou Gehrig had to retire from baseball due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (which became known as Lou Gehrig's disease.)
- Such injuries happen often in Professional Wrestling: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Ted DiBiase, Edge, Darren Drozdov, and Hayabusa are just some, and then there are the injuries that weren't only career-ending, but life-ending.`
- Matt Smith originally wanted to be a professional footballer, but a back injury put an end to his early career. Considering he's now a world-famous actor, we're going to go out on a limb and presume he's not too bitter about it.
- Chicago Bears player Gale Sayers had to retire after injuring first one knee (the one depicted in the film Brian's Song) and then the other, both injuries requiring surgery and extensive rehab. He now works with a group that raises funds for injured players and their families.
- New York Liberty star Kym Hampton had to retire from the WNBA after injuring her knee.
- Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson, best known for competing in the 2008 Beijing games, had to retire from gymnastics for good just before the 2012 London games due to a knee injury.
- Saint Ignatius of Loyola became a major reformer of the Catholic Church after a cannonball injury to the leg forced him to give up battle.
- Colombian cyclist Mauricio Soler crashed on the 6th stage of the 2011 Tour de Suisse. At the time, he was in second and had won the second stage, as well as generally looking to be at the top of his form. He crashed going downhill at 80 km/h, and suffered a fractured skull, a cerebral edema, other fractures and hematomas, to the point where he had to be put in a medically induced coma. Over a year later, he announced that he wouldn't try to return to the sport.
- Country Music singer Jake Owen originally wanted to be a professional golfer, but a serious accident while wakeboarding him resulted in reconstructive surgery that left him unable to continue.
- Latin pop legend Julio Iglesias was a goalkeeper for Real Madrid Castilla, the reserve team of the legendary Spanish football club, until injuries suffered in an auto accident left him unable to walk for two years. While he was hospitalized, a nurse gave him a guitar so keep his hands occupied, and he discovered a gift for music.
- Alex Zanardi, former Formula One and Indy Car racing driver, lost both his legs in a horrific crash that nearly killed him. He made the best of it and started two new careers—first in touring car racing (using a car fitted with hand controls) with a decent amount of success, and later as a Paralympic athlete, winning three medals at handcycling, two of them gold, during the London 2012 Paralympics.
- Gordon Ramsay's footballer ambitions were ended by multiple knee injuries in his late teens.
- A lot of dancers tend to become actors or similar performers later on due to accidents. Summer Glau, for instance, got her start as an actress after a broken toe forced her to put her career as a ballerina on hold.
- Roy Horn, of the stage magician duo Siegfried and Roy, got infamously mauled by a white tiger during a show on October 3, 2003. Their show, until then one of the most successful in Las Vegas's history, came to an immediate halt, and the incident was one of the contributing factors (along with protests by animal rights groups and the success of Cirque du Soleil) in ending the use of exotic animals in magic acts.
- There might have been three Manning Brothers in the NFL today if eldest son Cooper, who was an all-state wide receiver during his high school days in Mississippi and was considered a hot prospect recruit for Ole Miss, hadn't been diagnosed with a spinal condition that ended his playing days.
- In the second race of the Indycar doubleheader at Houston, Takuma Sato got loose and slid into Dario Franchitti's car, sending him twirling into the catch fence. Franchitti suffered a broken back and ankle in the crash, as well as a concussion. On the advice of his doctors, he retired from racing a month later.
- Country star Chad Brownlee was a first round NHL draft pick until he messed up his knee in a game.
- Toronto Maple Leafs winger Ace Bailey's NHL career came to an abrupt end during the December 13, 1933 Leafs-Bruins game when Eddie Shore, aiming for Red Horner, checked him to the ice and fractured his skull.
- Driver Ernie Irvan ended up Double Subverting this with his near-fatal crash at Michigan in 1994. While he did get back into the car by 1996, and even won in 1997 at the same track that almost killed him, the simple fact of the matter was that he just wasn't a championship-level driver after the wreck (where he had been on the way to taking the '94 title before the injury), and several more head injuries after his comeback drove him to retire in 1999.
- Bobby Allison's near-fatal wreck at Pocono in 1988 was a more immediate instance of this, since, as soon as he recovered enough to set up a press conference, he announced his retirement from NASCAR. The fact that he was fifty years old probably helped with that decision.
- On the Sprint Cup level, Jerry Nadeau suffered a traumatic brain injury after striking the turn three wall head-on with a hung throttle at Richmond in 2003. Due in part to the lack of understanding about Nadeau's injury at the time, he ended up with permanent brain damage from the resulting swelling, and given that another head injury would likely kill him, he's certain not to be cleared to race ever again.
- Competitors in mind sports suffer career-ending injuries too. Chess grandmaster Milko Bobotsov was a world-class player until he suffered a near-fatal stroke in 1972 after a tournament. He survived, but was never the same again.
- Bill McLaren was on the verge of playing his first game for Scotland's national rugby team when he contracted a near-fatal case of TB and was forced to give up playing. He went on to become a renowned commentator, earning him a nickname of "the voice of rugby".