Meet Ernestine: Not Your Average 81 Year Old

Meet Ernestine Shepherd. She’s a personal trainer, professional model, competitive bodybuilder, and she’s 81 years old. In 2010, she was crowned the World’s Oldest Performing Female Bodybuilder by Guinness. Today, we caught up with her and asked a few questions about her fitness career and what keeps her determined, dedicated and disciplined to be fit.


I first got into fitness with my sister, Mildred Blackwell, when I was 56 years old. We went swimsuit shopping one day and were unhappy about the way we looked in the mirror.

Instead of lamenting about our bodies, we decided to make a change, get into shape and become the best version of ourselves.

We started going to the gym together and it became a routine for us. We would match our workout clothes in different colors and it was a way we bonded together. We were so close to each other. It was actually her idea for us to become the oldest female bodybuilders and we would stand out from the rest because we were sisters.

I made a promise to my sister to live a healthy lifestyle and inspire others to do the same.

Mildred started having health problems and shortly passed away. After her death, I was devastated and my health condition became very poor. I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fell into depression and was on a ton of medications. One night, my sister came to me in a dream and told me to get up and fulfill our dream. I woke up the next day and became determined to overcome the challenges I was facing and decided to keep that commitment and continue what we started. I thank God everyday and am grateful to my family who helped me get through that tough time.


In order to get fit, I had to eat healthy, drink plenty of water, do strength training, and incorporate lots of cardio. That is still my routine till this day.

I met former Mr. Universe, Yohnnie Shambourger, who trained me to become a bodybuilder. He mapped out different exercise programs and changed my eating plan. I followed it completely. I drank plenty of liquid egg whites and water and ate a lot of protein — egg whites, tuna, chicken and turkey — no beef. I also ate baked sweet potatoes, brown rice and all veggies with no preservatives. I don’t crave anything sweet, but on rare occasions I do enjoy unsweetened cherry flavored jello.


When I’m not exercising, I make sure I’m giving my body plenty of rest. I love going to church each Sunday — I’m in a choir and I love to sing. I enjoy spending time with my husband and enjoy modeling clothes. I find the most joy in helping others and I do that daily by training senior women and men to reach their physical potential.


It’s been a wonderful journey earning the title as the World’s Oldest Performing Female Bodybuilder by Guinnesss World Records. I know my sister would be so proud for achieving that award. After winning multiple bodybuilding titles and running several marathons, I’ve inspired others to start working out and it’s been my life goal to motivate others to live a happy, healthy and confident life.

Always remember, you’re never too old or too late to start exercising. Age ain’t nothing but a number, and you can always get fit!

Want to learn more about Ernestine and how she defies “normal” aging? Follow her fitness journey on Instagram and stay up to date on her website.

Natalee Sperry

August 02, 2017 at 7:16 am

Love, love, love her story. Incredibly inspiring. The teaser was my favorite part of the the catalog. MORE LIKE MS. SHEPHERD! Healthful activity and living is for everyone.

Janet Torres

August 02, 2017 at 9:44 am

Thank you Athleta for highlighting this amazing person. I love that you use real people as models and its not another Victoria’s Sectet catalogue. Getting older should be embraced and Athleta is leading the way as not everyone is under 30 ;).


August 02, 2017 at 2:53 pm

Great article! I was so happy to open my new catalog and see her beautiful face smiling back at me. Ernestine is truly inspiration to fitness professionals and ALL women!!

Sue B

August 02, 2017 at 5:45 pm

You are a true inspiration…and a role model for all of us following in your footsteps!


August 03, 2017 at 9:21 pm

Thank you Ernestine for your fabulous story.
I’m 62 and finished climbing Mt St Helens for the 4 th year in a row.
Your story encourages me to continue hiking and climbing for years to come.
Your right age is just a number!


August 06, 2017 at 10:14 pm

Pretty wicked cool! Thank you Ernestine and Athleta for sharing your journey. Love to travel with inspiring people and companies to destinations (physically, mentally, spiritually) that I would be honored to emulate on my own life path.


August 20, 2017 at 8:54 am

Great story! Thanks for sharing, Ernestine is so inspiring!! Love seeing her in the catalog as a model!!

Teresa Macke

August 23, 2017 at 6:25 pm

Amazing. At 52, I have gotten more into lifting and feel great after going from 168 to 134 since October. You are so inspiring. Thank you.

angela ebirim

August 28, 2017 at 5:12 am

I screamed when I saw Ernestine modelling Athleta clothes! I adore Ernestine and am so inspired by her. Athleta, I’ve always admired the values that you promote through your branding encouraging women to be fit, strong and athletic. Please keep it up. You’ve just created a customer for life!


August 28, 2017 at 5:12 am

So inspiring! Thank you for sharing your story, Ernestine!

Catalina Vallecillo

August 28, 2017 at 5:38 am

Ernestine – I am looking forward to being 81 and continuing to work out! You are a great inspiration.


August 28, 2017 at 5:40 am

Athleta is winning me over more and more each day! Ms. Ernestine is a true testament of the power of focus, faith, and love. She’s a beautiful woman and so inspiring, especially to African American women. It’s not uncommon for Black women to get stuck in unhealthy eating patterns as they age and begin to see their health and body deteriorate as a result. Kudos to Ms. Ernestine for showing us what healthy choices looks like in our Golden Years.


August 28, 2017 at 5:55 am

She is just beautiful inside, and The Lord is shining beauty coming from within. Very inspiring! Thank You for sharing your story!


August 28, 2017 at 6:09 am

This is one of the best stories I have read in a long time. Inspiring, no doubt. She looks AMAZING, and gives me motivation to be that way for decades more to come! Thank you, Ernestine and Athleta!


August 28, 2017 at 6:45 am

Mrs Shepard has inspired me. I’m going to show my mom this inspiring story. I use too walk 3 day out of a week and exercise. Now I get up each morning and stretch. Along with my mom we r going (GODS will) to start our walking routine again. Mrs. Shepard you are an inspiration to me. Thank u so much Athleta!!!****

Cristel Reeves

August 28, 2017 at 6:52 am

Brava, Earnestine, you rock! I am so inspired by you and your story!!! I admire your dedication to health/fitness that few have at any age. Most people think their age defines them, but it doesn’t have to. Good for you for proving that. I love the fact that Athleta uses real athletes for their catalog, especially you. Fitness is a lifestyle, I am happy to say that at age 62, I am still there. After being in the fitness industry for 16 years, as an instructor, I had to change the way I work out, more efficiently and mindfully. Same goes for diet., no sugar,or processed foods, I am encouraged to keep going for 20+ years after reading your story!!!

Julie B aka big mama

August 28, 2017 at 7:14 am

What an inspiration! Loved hearing her success story and attitude towards life!! Everyone should encorperste a healthy lifestyle and be thriving while getting older!!!
Congratulations to your new record!!! You are a warrior!!!!

Cynthia M. Galbraith

August 28, 2017 at 10:11 am

God bless you always Ernestine. I concur with your mindset. My mother who lived to be 95 healthy yrs old and raised 9 children whom she had in 9 years, always said, How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are. She was a most magnifique woman and so are you.


September 03, 2017 at 6:45 am

inspiring, read her story years ago and she still motivated e to keep health as a priority in my life, i am 50 and inspired to live healthy , stronger, longer!


September 03, 2017 at 9:54 am

Big fan of this lady! Awesome of Athleta to include her as a model & role model 🙂


September 06, 2017 at 5:49 pm

Ernestine has realized that health and fitness are a gift from God…and not to be abused or taken advantage of. So many people fight serious health battles every day just to stay alive. We should take notice of Ernestine’s faith and focus and live more like her. Fitness is a lifestyle choice and Athleta helps us look good and feel good in every way!

Rebecca Collegio

September 12, 2017 at 6:21 pm

Insanely inspiring! Thank you Athleta for sharing Ernestine’s story! I want to hear more stories like this. She motivates me to stay strong and healthy and do things I didn’t think possible. Stories like this change our perspective about aging.


September 22, 2017 at 8:10 pm

Thank you so very much for sharing your powerful story, Ernestine!!. You are so inspiring!! Love seeing you in the catalog as a model!! You are beautiful inside and out.

Xiomara Dearing

September 23, 2017 at 5:56 am

I love this!!!! Inspirational and beyond. The range of beauty included in Athleta catalogs as of late is truly amazing. Anyone can identify themselves with these REAL women. Thank you Athleta!

Yvonne j Davis

March 23, 2018 at 11:22 pm

I to trained in weight, I was chosen for may/June issue of AARP 2005. One of my proud moments, I am now in yoga for meditation, flexibility and strength. I’m 68yrs young and also in good health we seniors have to stay fit and eat healthier. God bless and keep us both as role models to the people of seniors age.

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