News / Longevity

Ernestine Shepherd-World's Oldest Female Body Builder

The oldest female bodybuilder who will be 81 soon still wakes up at 2:30 a.m. to train: "It's My Joy"

Ernestine Shepherd loves to run, hitting the park at 2:30 a.m. for her daily ten miles. She also loves lifting weights, targeting a different body part each of the four days a week she works out. But more than anything, Shepherd - named Oldest Female Bodybuilder by the Guinness Book of World Records - loves to inspire others.

Shepherd will celebrate her 81st birthday on June 16 this year, but the nine-time bodybuilding competitor, author and coach isn't slowing down anytime soon.

"Exercise keeps me happy and alive, so it's just another day, that's all," she says of her birthday. "I tell everybody that age is nothing but a number. And if there ever was an anti-aging pill, it would have to be exercise. My whole life has changed. It has changed for the better."

While you'd never know it from her impressive biceps and ripped abs, the octogenarian is a recent convert to exercise. It was only at 56 that her sister convinced the once sedentary Shepherd to join a gym.

"She said, 'What we are going to do, is we are going to become bodybuilders.' 'What?' I said. 'Yes, we are going to become bodybuilders,'" Shepherd recalls.

Sadly, her sister had an aneurysm and died shortly thereafter, and Shepherd stopped going to the gym.

"I really wouldn't do anything, I was complete mess," Shepherd says. "I did absolutely, positively nothing."

Two years later, Shepherd said her sister came to her in a dream and encouraged her to get back to the gym. At 71, she competed in her first bodybuilding event and earned her Guinness title.

"I've won a large number of trophies. It's just been wonderful, it's been a joy, it's made me very very happy," Shepherd says. "And from doing these things, I've inspired others to start working out and compete in bodybuilding shows, or whatever they see fit that they want to do."

Ernestine Shepherd (June 16, 1936) is an African-American bodybuilder. She was a model in Baltimore for years, but at age 56 she and her sister Mildred Blackwell went to try on swimsuits and found their bodies were out of shape; they then started taking aerobics classes. Her sister began competing in bodybuilding shows under the name Velvet, and Ernestine followed under the name Ernie. However, her sister died in 1992 following a brain aneurysm.

Shepherd carries on her bodybuilding career in part to remember her sister. Since the age of 56, she has won two bodybuilding titles, as well as run nine marathons. She also leads exercise classes for seniors at the Union Memorial United Methodist Church in Baltimore, and works as a personal trainer. She published a book, Determined, Dedicated, Disciplined To Be Fit, in 2016.

Oldest bodybuilder Ernestine Shepherd and her husband


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