The Details Behind 74-Year-Old Ernestine Shepherd’s Weightlifting Glory

A new profile in the Washington Post reveals the deeply personal bond that drives one woman's inspiration tale.

By Thoai Lu Jun 02, 2011

Ernestine Shepherd, who is 74 years old and ripped, is honored in the 2010 and 2011 Guinness World Records as the oldest competitive female bodybuilder in the world, Washington Post reported last Friday.

Jamilah King already showed Shepherd some love in April, for inspiring women younger than her to get in shape by instructing weight-lifting classes.

The image of Shepherd still stunning in a bikini, at age 74 with chiseled muscles is inspiring enough. But behind this Baltimore native’s glorious six-pack is an even more poignant tale. What exactly motivates her to get up at 3am, meditate, and run for 3 hours in a wooded trail in Baltimore every day?

The Post’s recent profile provides answers. Shepherd was actually a couch potato for most of her life. It wasn’t until she was about 56 years old, when she was jealous that her then 57-year-old sister, Mildred, was getting in shape. That little dose of sibling rivalry put her to work.

The sisters had done everything together since childhood, and Mildred told Ernestine in 1992 that her dream was for the two to make it in the Guinness World Records for being two sister bodybuilders. Mildred confided to Ernestine, "If I don’t make this, you have to fulfill this dream."

When Mildred passed away due to a brain aneurysm Shepherd sank into depression and developed panic attacks. At 61, she was tired of holding onto five years of grief. After Sheperd consulted a doctor, her younger sister Bernice told her, "Every time you feel like you can’t make it, lace up your tennis shoes and get up and go walking."

Last year, Shepherd traveled to Rome for the Guiness World Records ceremony, and she brought her sister’s ashes. "I spread those ashes, she said, "It was something we dreamed about. I try to keep that dream alive. Now it’s my dream."