“If ever there were an anti-aging pill, I would call it exercise,” says Ernestine Shepherd, a 75-year-old bodybuilder. Formerly holding the title as the oldest female competitive bodybuilder in the world, Shepherd has captivated the minds of nutritionists, doctors and athletic competitors alike. She runs ten miles every morning and leads a fitness group at her local church, making sure to instill the value of life and health into each of her members. Shepherd continues to compete for body building titles in memory of her late sister and former competitor Mildred Blackwell.
“Age is nothing but a number,” Shepherd told BBC News in an interview dedicated to her success. The 2010 and 2011 Guinness Book world record holder stands as the oldest female competitive bodybuilder in the world. Surprisingly, Shepherd didn’t begin body building until age 71, proving that it’s never too late to find purpose and perfect a craft.
Shepherd has used her passion for exercise to serve others. She currently conducts exercise classes for senior citizens at the Union Memorial United Methodist Church in Baltimore and works as a personal trainer. “This is my ministry, to motivate others,” said Shepherd, as she talked about her joy in working with members of her church. Shepherd made a point to tell BBC that she does not expect anyone from her church group to follow in her body building footsteps, “I don’t mean that they will be a body builder. I [teach] health, peace and prosperity. That’s the formula.”
Shepherd commits to running 80 miles per week and consumes 1,700 calories per day. Boiled egg whites, chicken, vegetables and a liquid egg white drink make up her diet. Her morning runs begin at 2:30 a.m. and end just in time for her to hit the gym.
Shepherd was not always a fan of athleticism, describing herself as far “too prissy to be athletic.” But at age 56 she and her sister, Mildred Blackwell, found that their bodies were out of shape. This realization forced the two siblings into aerobic classes which then led them to competitive bodybuilding. Unfortunately Blackwell died of a brain aneurysm in 1992. Shepherd told the BBC, “She came to me in a dream and she said I wasn’t doing what I said we would do.” Shepherd carries on her body building career in part to remember her sister.
“Ms. Ernie” is trained by former Mr. Universe Yohannie Shambourger and does not take any supplements. She has won two bodybuilding titles since the age of 56.