Baltimore, Maryland's Ernestine "Ernie" Shepherd, at age 73, is a certified personal trainer, professional model and competitive all-natural bodybuilder. In March of 2010, on the stage of a television show in Rome, Italy, she was formally given the title of World's Oldest Performing Female Bodybuilder (by Guinness World Records).
Not content to rest on her laurels, a couple of months later and less than two months shy of turning 74, Ernestine was back in the states and back on stage competing in the Capital Tournament of Champions bodybuilding contest. At this Musclemania competition she came in first place while competing in the Grand Masters division (ages 55 and up) and took second in the overall Lightweight Women's category.
What makes these accomplishments all the more impressive is that as late as her mid-fifties Ernestine was an out-of-shape, amply-padded school secretary who had never worked out a day in her life. A shopping trip with her sister, Velvet, to buy bathing suits changed all that; laughing at each other and seeing the sad shape they were in, Ernestine and her sister decided to join a gym and started an exercise routine.
However, people start exercise programs all the time, but they don't end up as bodybuilding champions and professional models. They don't develop a body with just 9 to 10% bodyfat as the 5 foot 5 inch, 130-pound Ernestine Shepherd has done. What made the difference?
First, shortly after they began their program of exercise, Ernestine's sister died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. Devastated, Ernestine stopped working out. After some time had passed, she was reminded by a friend that her sister would have wanted her to continue what they had started together. As a result, after a time of mourning, with renewed determination and dedication to get fit, she returned to the gym.
Here are some of the other factors that appear to have helped Ernestine Shepherd to succeed so thoroughly to transform her body, while so many others have failed.
- She started slowly and built herself up gradually under the tutelage of a personal trainer; therefore, she's had no injuries (and few of the aches and pains typical of folks her age) in her 17 years of training.
- Ernestine made good nutrition a priority. Her bodybuilding protein needs are met, for example, by relying heavily on egg whites (high in protein -- low in calories). Interestingly, the only nutritional supplement she takes is vitamin D.
- Her cardio needs were not neglected. Ernestine has a running / walking program which includes 10-mile runs and upwards of 80 miles per week when training to run a marathon. She also likes to run in local 5K (3.1 miles) and 10K (6.2 miles) races and set personal records in these events in the last couple of years.
- Ernestine seeks out expert advice. When she decided to take up competitive bodybuilding at age 71, she enlisted the services of an online training program to make sure she did it right. Seven months of sport-specific training later, in 2008, she competed at age 72 in her first bodybuilding contest and won first place in the Masters division (45 and older) at the Natural East Cost Tournament of Champions Bodybuilding and Figure Championships.
- She maintains a positive attitude toward exercise and life in general. From her perspective, the daily workouts are not seen as work, but rather as a journey to better health and more energy.
Bodybuilding champion Ernestine Shepherd shows us that falling apart as we age truly is merely an option -- NOT a mandate! She is a role model not just for senior women everywhere, but for every one of us. We can thank Ernestine for showing us what is possible as we age -- a more youthful existence than we ever dared believe.