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Bodybuilding at 80

At age 74, Ernestine Shepherd became Guinness World Records’ oldest competitive female bodybuilder in 2010. She’s no longer competing, but that doesn’t mean she’s slowing down anytime soon.

The Baltimore, Maryland, local exercises for more than 30 hours each week and can bench press an impressive 110 pounds. You would think that her physique and strength were the result of a life-long commitment to fitness, but Shepherd didn’t actually start working out until she was in her 50s.

She and her sister, Velvet, went shopping for bathing suits and realized they wanted to get in shape. The pair joined a gym and became each other’s workout buddy. But not long after they began their fitness journey, Velvet died, and this took a toll on Ernestine. In an interview with Prevention, Shepherd says she fell back on her unhealthy lifestyle and had “high blood pressure, depression, panic attacks and acid reflux.”

After months of mourning, she decided to make her sister her main motivation to continue the fitness goals they started together. She began training to be a professional bodybuilder at 71 years old and won some trophies, beating other much younger contestants. “Before she died, she said, ‘Promise me, you will follow my dream and try to get in the Guinness Book of World records,’” Shepherd says. “So that’s what I did.’”

Since breaking the world record, the bodybuilder has moved on to a new goal: to help other women of all ages, whether in their 20s or their 80s, achieve their fitness goals. She’s developed a daily routine of waking up at 2:30 a.m., spending time on her spiritual devotions, walking or running approximately 10 miles, and getting to the gym at 7:30 a.m. to coach the ladies in her group.

Though not all her students are aspiring bodybuilders, they admire their coach’s can-do attitude. After all, as her official website dictates, she’s a firm believer in “encouragement, inspiration and family support and lives by her mantra ‘Determined — Dedicated — Disciplined To Be Fit.’” Shepherd says, “[My trainees] said, ‘I didn’t think this exercise would be this tough. But if you can do it, we’re going to do it, too.’”

Retirement plans don’t seem to be in Shepherd’s foreseeable future. “I really don’t feel as though I’m 80 years of age, but I am,” she says. “I want to keep training until my day is done.”


Baltimore, MD, USA

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