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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

Proving That Age Is Nothing But A Number

Apr 30, 2016 11:11PM

The Amazing Story of Ernestine Shepherd

by Robin Fillmore
Ernestine Shepherd has been making the round­s—Oprah, Good Morning America, ABC News, Prevention, Essence, the Today Show—and for good reason. This Baltimore-native is a personal trainer and professional model, and was also bestowed by the Guinness World Records with the title World’s Oldest Performing BodyBuilder in 2010 and 2011. In July, Shepherd turns 80, and she still proudly sports six-pack abs and the biceps of a high school football player.

What is more amazing about Shepherd is that until she was well into her 50s, she hadn’t done much to support her health. Rather, she was a school secretary and self-proclaimed “prissy” girl who decided it was time to join the gym after she and her sister had been trying on bathing suits. Together, they started taking fitness classes and working out on a regular basis. The pushed each other to go deeper, work harder—when sister, Mildred, noticed that they were drawing attention and could take that to another level—to become bodybuilders together.

One of the great tragedies in Shepherd’s life is that she was unable to fulfill this dream with her sister. Only months after the sisters decided to work together on this goal, Mildred, who by then became known as Velvet, died of a brain aneurysm. A strong woman of faith, Ernestine found it difficult to go on without the person who shared her dream, and even felt as though her faith was being tested. For a number of years, she stopped going to the gym and started experiencing panic attacks and acid reflux.

What appeared to be the lowest point in Shepherd’s life became a new starting point. Recalling the shared dream with her sister, and a promise that they made together to pursue it—no matter what, Shepherd enlisted the support of her family, and started working out again. She began working with trainer, Yohnnie Shambourger, who won a gold medal in bodybuilding at the Pan American Games and was crowned Mr. Universe, in 1995. Her new mantra became “Determined, Dedicated, Disciplined to be Fit.”

She still follows the training regime and diet that Shambourger set up for her, which includes a daily run beginning at 4 a.m., time at the gym for weightlifting (90 minutes) and weekly personal training sessions. Shepherd adds to that schedule a time of daily prayer and meditation each morning. She also still works as a personal trainer, herself, and offers a weekly class at a Randallstown gym. Though not preparing for a marathon at the moment, Shepherd notes that it is “something that she will be doing again soon.”

Her “spare” time, most recently, has been spent in sharing the secrets of her success in her soon-to-be-released book, The “Ageless” Journey of Ernestine Shepherd. She is also busy setting up monthly events, including a walk, open to the public, with former-NFL Baltimore Ravens player, Ray Lewis, on June 18 in Druid Hill Park, in Baltimore.

Shepherd lives out her guiding belief, “Age is nothing but a number” but even more deeply, fills her life with the creed by which she lives. Showing the sharpness of her mind that matches her physical prowess, she recites, by memory, the Optimist’s Creed, by Christian D. Larson.

“Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind,

to talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet,

to make all your friends feel that there is something worthwhile in them,

to look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

To give so much time to improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud word, but in great deeds.

To live in the faith that the whole world is on your side, so long as you are true to the best that is in you.”

There is no doubt that Shepherd has miles more to run, more smiles to share and countless more souls to inspire, as she comes into her 80th birthday. With her infectious zeal for life, it is evident that she is only getting started.

To learn more, visit To order a copy of her book, visit


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