Shawn Branning

Shawn Branning underwent surgery in 2013 in hopes of having his sleep apnea cured.

But he awoke to a living hell.

Leading up to that day, he already had two surgeries on his face to prepare the final big one where they would literally cut apart and move bones in his face for sleep apnea.

His four-hour surgery became seven.

His two-week recovery time turned into two years.

One surgery became 10.

“Due to my surgeon’s errors, I literally had to have my face rebuilt,” Shawn said. “I would have my jaw wired twice, have multiple bone infections, travel on business with a wired jaw, have the nerves severed and months later reconnected in my tongue, my nose collapsed and rebuilt. I now have over 40 pieces of titanium in my face and four cadaver grafts.”

Through it all, somehow, Shawn lifted every day.

As he was going through the first year of his surgery nightmare, he learned about the 1,000-pound club. He decided that would be his benchmark for strength and wanted to surpass it on his birthday in 2015.

“Every surgery was a setback,” Shawn recalled. “Every surgery took a piece away that I had to claw to get back. But on January 26, 2015, while alone in my basement gym, I hit 1,005 pounds. I have never competed as a powerlifter, but every year on my birthday, I repeat this benchmark.

“Now that benchmark is performed in front of my APEMAN banner in my favorite APEMAN shirt.”

Shawn is now at 1,175-pounds at a bodyweight of 202 pounds.

“I don't know how to live without this fight inside of me now,” he said. “Most of the people in my life don't understand and I don't expect them to. They didn't survive what I did. They don't know the fire inside. I live this fight day-in and day-out alone in my gym, competing against none other than myself. I was Strong in the Storm.”

Shawn says every APEMAN shirt has a deep, personal message to him. But the shirt he most identifies with is Destruction Forces Growth.

“There is no other way to describe what happened to me,” he said. “A specialist at Jefferson University Hospital last year told me they have no name for the problems people like me have because of the sheer amount of trauma that has occurred within the face.”

Shawn’s growth happened both physically and mentally – not just in the gym. He left a job that was making him unhappy, along with leaving relationships behind that were unhealthy.

“I left behind mediocre friends and I left behind petty feuds,” Shawn said. “Destruction of things in my life has led to the greatest growths – physically, mentally, emotionally. Most of all, it led to the best growth of all: happiness. I am so thankful for every shitty thing that ever happened to me because I could never be who I am today without those struggles.”