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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 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, Stronger with Age, and From Nobody to Nightmare.



Anime & Manga

  • 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.
  • 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 Brainwashed 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.
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  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica 's Homura Akemi. Yes, that Homura. She was nearsighted and had a heart condition before she healed it with magic.
  • In 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.

Comic Books

  • 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.
  • 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. 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 the kill hundreds and he even took his brothers insulting name as his own.

Fan Works

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Embers:
    • Zuko's birth was long and troublesome. He was born so weak that it was thought that he'd only last a few hours. It's thanks to Ursa's firebending that he was healed and survived. Zuko eventually grew into a powerful firebender and Fire Lord.
    • Ursa mentions that she was born much like her son Zuko. Her mother described giving birth to her as being similar to birthing a stone. Though not very physically adept, Ursa grew into a commanding figure and strong woman.

Film — Animation

  • 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 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.


  • 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.
  • 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 through Emily Elizabeth's love, he grew up to be larger than a house.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Ghost the albino direwolf was the runt of his siblings and only given to Jon because the 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Marcus from Dark Shores 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).

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Tabletop Games

  • 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.

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 acquiring 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Harvest Moon:
  • 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 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 team of Pokémon in the game and appears in Pokémon Sun and Moon's Battle Tree alongside other very strong trainers like Red and Cynthia.


Western Animation

  • 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.
  • In the Invader Zim episode "Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy," Zim uses time-travel to cause his arch-nemesis to turn him into a cripple during his childhood. It works in the past, but in the present, his nemesis has gained a house-sized robotic suit to (over-)compensate for his injuries.

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.
  • 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.


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