How Ernie likes to move it

Body-builder Ernestine Shepherd is 80 — an age that her chiselled body and toned biceps conceal well

Ernestine (“call me Ernie”) Shepherd wakes up at 2.30 am every day. She says her prayers, then sets off for a long walk-run, a distinctive figure in her neon clothes and long, grey braid, a headlamp illuminating the way. Two hours later, she comes back home, eats her breakfast of egg whites, oatmeal and walnuts and heads to the gym. She spends most of her morning there, working out herself and then training people till around noon.

She eats 1,700 calories spaced through the day: perfectly balanced, clean meals that usually consist of complex carbohydrates, like sweet potato or brown rice paired with fish or lean meat and plenty of vegetables. She washes it all down with lots of water, and drinks liquid egg white all through the day to meet her protein requirements.

It is admittedly a gruelling routine, one that certainly requires what Shepherd calls her 3 Ds: determination, dedication, discipline.

“If you use the 3 Ds in life, you cannot do anything but succeed,” believes Shepherd, whose enviably low body fat percentage of 9-10%, flat tummy and toned biceps indicate that what she is doing is working, and well.

While it is true that building and sustaining a body and lifestyle like this is no cakewalk at any age, what makes her story even more inspirational is this: Ernestine Shepherd is 80 years old.

In the beginning

Surprisingly enough, Shepherd discovered exercise fairly late in life. She was 56 when she first began working out. “My older sister and I were invited to a church picnic and we were told we had to wear bathing suits to it,” she says over a call from Baltimore, Maryland. The sisters didn’t quite like the way their bodies looked in the suits, so they decided to do something about it. They started taking aerobics classes together and noticed how exercise was positively affecting their bodies.

“The instructor noticed these changes and suggested we start lifting weights,” recalls Shepherd, adding that the sisters dreamt of getting into the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest sister body-builders. That is how it really began, adds Shepherd, who was recently part of an event held by the STOP Diabetes Foundation in Ontario, Canada.

Fulfilling the dream

In 1992, however, tragedy struck. Shepherd’s sister, Mildred Blackwell, died of a brain aneurysm. “After my sister’s passing, I stopped working out,” says Shepherd. She went to pieces, ending up with acid reflux, panic attacks and depression. “It was just an awful way to live,” she says.

Then one night, she had a dream, she remembers. A dream in which her sister came to her and told her to get up and fulfil the dream they once had. “I started exercising again,” she says.

When she turned 71, she decided to step up her game. “I wanted to get into the Guinness World Records,” she says.

She contacted former Mr Universe Yohnnie Shambourger and started training with him. In a matter of seven months, her body was in great shape, so she decided to enrol for her first competition. “I came first,” laughs Shepherd, who was honoured in the 2010 and 2011 Guinness World Records as the oldest competitive female body-builder in the world.

Move it or lose it

“I really love back exercises,” laughs Shepherd, who certainly has a beautifully sculpted back. She continues to lift weights, not perhaps as heavy as she used to, but enough to, “maintain and stay toned”, as she says.

She also loves running and has completed nine marathons so far, in addition to the numerous half marathons, 10ks and 5ks she regularly attends. “And I always come first in my age group,” she proclaims proudly.

The chiselled body and numerous medals are certainly impressive, but Shepherd’s notion of health is far more holistic. “Women need to stop worrying about being a size 1 or 2. You want to be as healthy as you can and keep your body in motion,” she says, pointing out that exercise keeps ageing at bay and helps prevent the onset of lifestyle-related diseases.

Perhaps it is only fitting that two of her biggest idols are people known for their preoccupation with fitness: Sylvester Stallone and Michelle Obama. “I would love to train her (Obama) someday,” she admits.

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 12:48:38 AM |

Next Story