Ernestine “Ernie” Shepherd, at age 79, is a personal trainer, a professional model, a competitive bodybuilder and happier and more fulfilled than she’s ever been in her life. In March of 2010, on stage in Rome, Italy she was formally given the title of World’s Oldest Performing Female BodyBuilder (by Guinness World Records). How did Ernestine transform herself from an average middle-aged woman to bodybuilding diva?
In her youth Ernestine is said to have been a “prissy” girl with little interest in athletics or exercise of any kind. As a 56-year-old she was a sedentary, well-padded school secretary and “slug” who had never worked out a day in her life. The obvious question is: What happened to transform Ernestine into a role model for the rest of us, and senior women in particular?
What happened was that the 56-year-old version of Ernestine went bathing suit shopping with her sister, Velvet. While trying on the suits, they found themselves laughing at each other. Then and there they knew it was time to get in better shape. Ernestine and her sister joined a gym and started working out together. A short time later, Velvet died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Devastated, Ernestine stopped going to the gym. After some months of mourning the loss of her sister and on the advice of a friend that her sister would have wanted her to continue what they had started, Ernestine returned to the gym with a reignited determination to get fit.
Starting slowly and building her body step by little step, Ernestine over time completely transformed not only her body, but her life, too. She has never been happier. She trains mostly senior women five days a week and “live(s) to inspire senior women to reach their physical potential.”
Personally, she likes to compete in 5K and 10K races and run marathons. She’s up at 4 A.M. to get in her 10-mile runs and puts in upwards to 80 miles a week when training for an upcoming marathon. Ernestine also strength trains four or more days a week. In 2007 (at age 71) she asked Yohnnie Shambourger (former Mr. Universe) to train her to compete as a bodybuilder. Seven months later she entered her first bodybuilding competition. In this first contest she took first place in her class at the Natural East Coast Tournament of Champions bodybuilding competition – out posing women decades younger.
Despite all the exercise, Ernestine says that she has no aches or pains whatsoever and has never been injured — not at all — in the 17 years of her new improved life. This 5-foot 5-inch, 130-pound dynamo sports 9 to 10% body fat; these single-digit percentages are usually reserved for elite-professional male athletes in their prime! She takes no medications. She loves her new life’s work, enjoys more energy than those decades younger and has never been more successful. What’s her secret? Let’s look at some of what allows Ernestine to defy “normal” aging:
- Began slowly under the guidance of an expert personal trainer and gradually conditioned her body
- Ernestine, realizing early on the importance of good nutrition (including sufficient protein and supplements) sought out the services of a nutritionist
- Has the full support of her husband of 52 years, Collin, who prepares meals and makes sure the fridge is always stocked with her seven convenient small balanced daily meals
- Makes sure she gets the rest her body needs
- Tries to have a positive attitude about everything, views her workouts as fun and sees her work as being on a “long happy journey”
- Knows where she wants to go and what she wants to accomplish and do
- Believes in encouragement, inspiration and family support and lives by her mantra ” Determined — Dedicated — Disciplined To Be Fit”
Ernestine Shepherd is having the time of her life at an age when many folks only see themselves as declining and getting old. She’s in the best shape of her life by far, more successful than she’s ever been and a supreme role model to senior women every where and to the rest of us, too. She has a lot to teach us about thriving at any age — if we are but ready and open to learn.