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Sickly Child Grew Up Strong

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Theodore Roosevelt, Sr.: Theodore, you have the mind, but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. I am giving you the tools, but it is up to you to make your body.
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.: I will make my body!

Not every badass starts out that way. This trope is when a powerful character (sometimes an animal) is shown to have been Delicate and Sickly 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 From Nobody to Nightmare, I Got Bigger, Misery Builds Character, Stronger with Age, Throwing Off the Disability and Took a Level in Badass.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach:
    • Yhwach was born unable to see, hear, or even move. However, he was gifted with the ability to siphon life force from his people, which overcame his disabilities. Over time, he became the single most powerful being in the series and the antagonist of the final story arc.
    • Jushiro Ukitake contracted a terrible lung disease (heavily implied to be tuberculosis) at a young age, and wasn't expected to live past age three. Thanks to a pact made by Ukitake's parents with the god Mimihage, however, Ukitake not only lived to be one of the oldest captains of the Seireitei, but is one of the most powerful, said to be unmatched by his peers or predecessors.
  • 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.
  • Miyoko Mangetsu from Doraemon: Nobita's Great Adventure into the Underworld (2007 remake) was a sickly child suffering from a terrible illness, and was ultimately saved when her mother made a Deal with the Devil to erase Miyoko's illness. As an adult Miyoko is a capable Magic Knight and demon slayer, but trouble follows when she realized her mother is now a demon because of the deal.
  • Fairy Tail has Laxus Dreyar whom we first meet at 24 years old, but it is later revealed that he was a frail and sickly little boy and since his father Ivan did not want to have a weak son, he surgically implanted a Lacrima into Laxus that gave him the power of Dragon Slayer Magic. He grows up to be one of Fairy Tails strongest wizards, but due to his past he is also pretty obsessed with power and started the so-called "Battle of Fairy Tail" to strengthen the guild and weed out those he deemed as inferior.
  • Yuki Sohma from Fruits Basket suffered from severe respiratory problems when he was younger. As a teenager, he's largely recovered from his illnesses (though he'll occasionally have asthma attacks when under emotional stress) and is an even stronger martial artist than Kyo, who can never beat him despite being more passionate about martial arts than Yuki is.
  • 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 franchise and one of the most powerful combat mages alive) acknowledges her progress by expressing readiness to spar with her at full power (again, that is — although the last time they fought, Vivio was Brainwashed and Crazy and amped up on Green Rocks).
  • Childhood heart disease or not, Louis James Moriarty of Moriarty the Patriot is one of Moriarty's most effective agents and cannot be pushed around.
  • My Hero Academia: The original wielder of One for All was frail and sickly, yet that never deterred him from trying to stand up to his evil brother All for One. It turns out that when All for One decided to give his brother a minor power-stockpiling Quirk out of pity, it worked wonders to improve his health.
  • Gaara from Naruto was born extremely small and premature. He grew up ostracized 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.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica 's Homura Akemi. Yes, that Homura. She was nearsighted and had a heart condition before she healed it with magic.
  • Seiji/Sage of Ronin Warriors suffered from fragile health as a child, to the point his family dressed him as a girl on the belief that girls were easier to raise healthy. Come the time of the show, it doesn't seem to have any effect on him (and he doesn't remember that time at all).

    Comic Books 
  • Prior to becoming Captain America, Steve Rogers was such a weakling that he was rejected from the military. As a child, he was often ill with asthma and a weak heart and not expected to live past 25.
  • 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 dispersed, 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 to kill hundreds and he even took his brothers' insulting name as his own.
  • 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.
  • Wolverine was very weak and sickly as a child. As an adult, he has a Healing Factor and is easily one of the most powerful superheroes in the Marvel-universe.

    Fan Works 
  • Claire mentions in the first chapter of Tithing Love that her guard dog was a runt she found nearly drowned in a gutter.
  • Michelle Aimi Ketchum (sometimes called "Shelly" by family and close friends), the daughter of Ash and Misty in Pokémon-fanfiction stories by nyislandersgirl, was very weak and sickly as a baby (she was born with severely underdeveloped lungs, which led to breathing problems), but ultimately got better and grew up to be perfectly normal as she got older.
  • 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.
  • The Dark Side of the Mirror Verse: Mirror Gilda was Delicate and Sickly as a child due to Mirror Griffonstone's heavy pollution. However, when Mirror Starlight tried to boost it, she accidentally had a magic surge that turned the spell from "temporarily boost her immune system" to "permanently boost everything to peak griffin ability". Nowadays, she's Captain of the Royal Guard and considered to be Equestria's greatest warrior.
  • Zuko states in an Avatar: The Last Airbender episode that his father "says I was lucky to be born." Cue fan fics depicting him as a sickly baby who almost died.

    Films — Animation 
  • In 101 Dalmatians Lucky apparently 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 badass (if still a bit of a dork), and takes his place as the next Great Prince of the Forest.
  • In the How to Train Your Dragon franchise by DreamWorks Animation, Hiccup (the main protagonist) is a scrawny Black Sheep in the first film and in the second film, it's mentioned by Valka (Hiccup's long-lost mother) that he was apparently born premature and she was worried that Hiccup wouldn't make it. However, by the end of the first film, Hiccup becomes the first known Viking to actually tame a dragon (and a Night Fury at that, which are widely considered to be the most dangerous species of dragon out there) and becomes the best inventor in his village. And in the sequel, Hiccup's grown more into himself and eventually becomes the chief of his village.

    Films — 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.
  • In Man of Steel, Martha described Clark as a sickly child who was weak and struggled so hard to breathe 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.
  • The unnamed hitman in Faster is shown to have been this. It's implied that being a contract killer is only the latest in a series of challenges he's set himself, as he works for a pittance.

  • Charlotte's Web: Wilbur is the runt of the litter of piglets, with Mr. Arable initially preparing to kill him because he's so small and weak and "would probably die anyway." But thank to Fern's loving care, he soon grows into a strong, healthy young pig, although never quite big enough to be a prize winner (without Charlotte's intervention, that is).
  • Clifford the Big Red Dog: Clifford was the runt of the litter, but through Emily Elizabeth's love, he grew up to be larger than a house.
  • Rowley from The Cold Moons was born a runt and is the smallest cub in the group. As he grows, he turns into the fattest of all the badgers, being a younger version of his adopted father Eldon.
  • Dark Shores: Marcus was a sickly child, plagued by fits, and nobody really thought that he would survive in the legions. He grew up to be an accomplished warrior and military leader, highly respected by his legion, although his fits return from time to time (they seem to be partly allergic and partly triggered by emotions).
  • Dear America: In Color Me Dark, Nellie Lee Love was born prematurely and small enough to fit in her father’s hands. In the present day, she’s a strong and ofoutspoken young girl.
  • While not particularly strong an adult, 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 an 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 Misogynist 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.
  • Pamela Cox's continuation of Enid Blyton's Malory Towers series featured Bonnie Meadows, a small sickly girl who proves to be extremely smart, talented, and determined. Her character is one of the strongest of the main cast, which causes trouble as people often underestimate her.
  • 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.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Ghost the albino direwolf was the runt of his siblings and only given to Jon because the healthier ones have been claimed 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.
  • Fritti Tailchaser from Tailchaser's Song is an abnormally small tomcat. He was dwarfed by his brothers and was the same size as his sisters Softwhisker and Clearsong. Tailchaser is the one who became a legendary hero as an adolescent.
  • 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.
  • 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 that no one wants, Scourge ran away and became a rogue. As an adult Scourge becomes the feared and fearsome Ax-Crazy leader of BloodClan, though he is still a small cat.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • Doctor Who: Grant in the episode "The Return of Doctor Mysterio" is constantly ill as a young boy, which is why he swallows a pill-sized crystal the Doctor asks him to hold after handing him a drink of water, thinking it's medicine. This crystal was some phlebotinum the Doctor planned to use, and it granted him superpowers as he grew up.
  • Kaamelott: A barbarian warlord who's seven feet tall and weighs five hundred pounds is described as having been very frail in his childhood (although he still suffers from colds every winter).
  • Parks and Recreation: Chris is obsessed with exercise and healthy living, and is inhumanly good shape as a result. This is in part because he had a rare disease as a newborn that he wasn't expected to survive.
  • 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.
  • In the pilot of Smallville we see a young Lex Luthor who uses an asthma inhaler and is terrified of heights. In the series proper he's a definite Badass Normal.
  • In That '70s Show, the gang gets a visit from an old schoolmate who had asthma and scoliosis but is now a healthy, handsome young man. Eric gets jealous when Donna takes a liking to him.

  • Marshall Mathers was once a small, sickly child who spent a lot of time off school due to mysterious stomach problems (which he would later discover was due to his mother spiking his food with drugs to make him sick), and contracted brain damage after an assault from a school bully, which left him with a lifelong Eye Twitch. He would eventually grow up into an athletic, intelligent adult who would be considered one of the greatest rappers to ever hold a mic. Many of Eminem's Self-Empowerment Anthem songs are about this transformation, with many paying particular attention to the fact that it was the things about Eminem that he thought were flaws (his horrible childhood and his obsessive, raging personality) that would end up making him into the megastar he became.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer: Gorgers are weak and sickly ogre infants thrown into tunnels beneath the mountains because the tribe doesn't want them, eventually they grow into aggressive scavengers that eat anything in their path and some ogres even utilize them in warfare.

    Video Games 
  • Age of Empires II: The African Kings Sundjata campaign depicts the life of the titular Mali king, who was born frail but with the help of a fallen branch to brace himself with, developed a strong body, and later a strong empire.
  • In Crusader Kings II, babies can get born with the Sickly Infant trait. This does not prevent them from gaining the Brawny trait or from acquiring a high-level martial education when grown up.
  • 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 its power by force (which he has the technology to do).
  • Adonis of Ensemble Stars! was quite weak and sickly as a child but grew up to become very physically strong. Due to understanding what it's like to be vulnerable, he has a strong desire to protect the weak and often encourages others to exercise more and eat more meat so they will become stronger, too.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • 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.
    • Fire Emblem Engage: Alfred, the Crown Prince of Firene, is noted to have been sickly as a child, yet as a young adult frequently engages in physical training and is delighted to notice the increase of his muscle mass. Unfortunately, unlike Xander, his disease returns and, if he's not S-supported, ultimately claims his life.
  • 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.
  • Harvest Moon:
  • 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.
  • Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire: One of the earliest characters you are introduced to in the game is Wally, a sickly boy who is implied to have breathing issues, most likely asthma. He is going to live with his uncle and aunt in Verdanturf Town and you accompany him as he catches his first Pokémon, a Ralts, to be his companion. Later on, you meet him and he's doing better, and he attempts to challenge the Mauville Gym (with only his Ralts) but you defeat him before he gets the chance. The next time you encounter him, he's managed to make it to Victory Road and he has nearly a full team of strong Pokémon, effectively replacing Brendan/May as the main rival character. In Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, by the end he has one of the strongest teams of Pokémon in the game and appears in Pokémon Sun and Moon's Battle Tree alongside other very strong trainers like Red and Cynthia.
  • Warcraft: Draka was born physically weak compared to other orcs, a race that sees weakness as a sin. Eventually she was exiled from the Frostwolf Clan, told to either grow in strength enough to return to them or die. Years later, Draka would return to the Frostwolves, physically strong and a skilled tracker. She was welcomed back with open arms as "the Warrior Made".

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Theodore Roosevelt was sickly and asthmatic as a child. He embraced a strenuous lifestyle to overcome this, intentionally taking the Path of Most Resistance throughout his life. More than the manly feats he accomplished, this spirit and resolve have made him a Memetic Badass.
  • George Washington Carver was a tiny fragile baby born into slavery, who would eventually grow to be one of the greatest men of his era.
  • Famed American college football coach Bobby Bowden contracted rheumatic fever as a boy. He was bedridden for roughly a year, and was told he would never participate in sports again. He refused to accept the first diagnosis and went on to play not only football but also baseball and track at the collegiate level, earning "Little All American" honors as quarterback.
  • Bruce Lee was a tiny fragile child, who later grew up, thanks to his hard training, into one of the greatest Martial Arts stars. Today he is universally recognized as one of the ultimate film star "tough guys", as well as one who was also a spiritual Genius Bruiser in real life.
  • In 1988, John and Amber Fury, an Irish Traveller couple living in England, welcomed a son into the world three months prematurely. The couple had previously lost two prematurely born daughters, and doctors had told the couple that their son wasn't likely to make it either. His father, perhaps sensing a fighting spirit in his son, named him after Mike Tyson, then the world heavyweight boxing champion. Little Tyson not only survived, but ended up a 6'9"/206 cm giant who himself became a world heavyweight champion.