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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Age is Nothing But a Number, Get Fired Up to Get Fit  

Fitness is a way of life for 86-year-old Ernestine “Ernie” Shepherd. 

Another birthday is just around the corner for the inspiring author and personal trainer who can be spotted working people out at YouFit Gym located in Randallstown. Her ability to inspire people who need to get into shape is “ageless.” 

“When I awaken in the morning, I always have my devotions,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd’s schedule remains productive and action-packed.

“I just love everything that I do. I love all of the people that I train,” Shepherd said. “I have learned that you are never ever too old to start exercising. I’ve learned that it’s wonderful to help people.”

Ernestine Shepherd teaches a fitness class/ Photo courtesy of Yohnnie Shambourger

The Baltimorean became known as the oldest female competitive bodybuilder in the world from 2010- 2011, after becoming a Guinness Book of World Records holder.

“Most people still call me the oldest female competitive bodybuilder,” Shepherd said, mentioning that another female bodybuilder followed later.

The fitness guru started training with the former Mr. Universe, Yohnnie Shambourger, at age 71 and progressed to compete in a bodybuilding show.

“There were ladies younger than me and I came in first place. So, after I had come in first place, he got a call from the people at the Guinness Book of World Records, in Rome,” Shepherd said.

Ernestine Shepherd, recognized by Guinness Book of World Records/ Photo courtesy of Yohnnie Shambourger

After checking to confirm that Shepherd was indeed the oldest female competitive bodybuilder in the world, a trip to Rome was underway to obtain a medal and a certificate.

Prior to Shepherd’s record-breaking milestone, her fitness story began with a bathing suit shopping trip with her late sister, Mildred Blackwell. 

When the pair agreed that they needed to get their bodies into better shape, they began working out together. Blackwell adopted the fitness moniker “Velvet.” She told her sister to call herself “Ernie,” when the duo decided that they would become fitness trainers. They joined a gym and started weightlifting in their late fifties.

“’Velvet’ said she wanted to become a bodybuilder and she also wanted to train people,” Shepherd said.

Unfortunately, Blackwell died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Shepherd mourned the loss of her sister. 

“Before she died, she said to me, ‘Do you promise that you will keep up what you are doing because what we want to do is to help as many people as we can to live a happy, positive, confident lifestyle by first, prayer, then exercising, then getting out walking and eating healthy. If you can teach that to everyone, that is what would make me very happy. So, I told her I would, but I didn’t know she was going to die at that time. But then when she did, I was so out of it. I just didn’t know what to do,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd mentioned that she could not understand how God took her sister away. One night after falling asleep she was awakened. 

“My sister said to me, ‘You aren’t doing what I asked you to do. Get up and do what I asked you to do. I looked around the room. I didn’t see anybody. So, I laid back down and the same voice came again,” Shepherd said.

She thought about the voice she heard. During a church revival service that she later attended, something moved Shepherd to jump up, after a song was played.

“The next thing I said was, ‘Restore to me the joy of my salvation. Restore to me, the joy of each new day. Give me back the love that I once had for you and never ever let me slip away.’ From that day on, I was a changed person. I started doing the things that my sister wanted me to do. I started training people,” Shepherd said.

She ended up dealing with anxiety and depression. After seeking treatment, Shepherd got back on track.

Her first trainer took her as far as he could. He introduced her to Shambourger who is her current trainer and manager. 

Ernestine Shepherd with her husband after a group walk. / Photo courtesy of Yohnnie Shambourger

To date, Shepherd has appeared on television shows, worked with AARP, traveled to different states speaking about being healthy, appeared as “Granny Six-Pack” in a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! book and completed nine marathons while coming in first place in her age category.

Shepherd’s accomplishments are too numerous to name. She regrouped again after losing her husband not quite four years ago. She is working on getting a little weight off from taking medication for anxiety. 

“I’ve written a book,” she added.

“Determined, Dedicated, Disciplined To Be Fit: The “Ageless” Journey of Ernestine Shepherd” is an inspiring, insightful read that provides motivation about jump starting one’s own fitness journey.

“ I just want to continue helping people to live a healthy, happy, positive, confident lifestyle,” Shepherd said.

Linda Hollis found her way to the fitness trainer’s class who left her staring in amazement when she first saw her teach in 2010.  Hollis lost weight and gained muscle. She usually travels with Shepherd out of state. 

“We just became fast friends,” the 75-year-old said. “She just loves people and loves to see people getting healthy and getting fit because her motto is: ‘age is nothing but a number.’”

Visit www.officialernieshepherd.com to learn more about Shepherd and her book.

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