Ernestine Shepherd, in shape at age 74 - Los Hechos y el Derecho TV LHD TV

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Ernestine Shepherd, in shape at age 74

Ernestine Shepherd, in shape at age 74

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Ernestine Shepherd, in shape at age 74

The Baltimore woman is listed in the 2010 and 2011 Guinness World Records as the oldest competitive female bodybuilder in the world.
"Believe it or not, I used to be a couch potato," Ernestine Shepherd says. She became a competitive bodybuilder in her 70s.

At age 74, will you look as good as Ernestine Shepherd, the oldest competitive female bodybuilder?

It is the first thing you notice when you see Ernestine Shepherd in the front of the class, teaching body sculpting at a gym north of Baltimore.

Shepherd is wearing tight red shorts and a red bikini top. Between the two is her signature span of chiseled abs.

She is a Dorothy Dandridge beauty, a knockout. Her makeup is perfect, lips painted candy red to match her workout clothes. She has thick, black eyelashes and wears her hair in a long, gray braid that swings down her superbly sculpted back.

She is wearing white Converse sneakers with little white kitten heels. She flexes. “If you are going to try to motivate people, you have to live that part,” she says. “You have to look that part.” Her husband will say later that he still has trouble keeping guys away from her.

Behind her, women many, many years younger than she are struggling — huffing and puffing and trying to keep up. Thighs heavy, bellies jiggling, breath short, they sweat away as their 74-year-old instructor with the body of a college cheerleader counts.

A woman rolls over on her back, exhausted.

“Everybody okay?” Shepherd, at the front of the class, asks softly.

“Third set. And one, two.” Her arms are spread like wings.

“Three, four, five, six.” The women are exhausted. Shepherd continues. “Seven, eight. Good! Nine, 10, 11, 12. And hold. Last set, and one, and two, and work those shoulders. Good. Put your arms down. Shake them out.”

A woman in the back of the gym, who has seen Shepherd on television, whispers: “How do you get to be 74 with a body like that?”

“Age is nothing but a number,” Shepherd says assuredly into the microphone. She has been featured in Essence, on the “Today” show and local television in Baltimore. Last fall, she appeared on “The Mo’Nique Show,” explaining fitness and aging. “We can do it! Why?” Shepherd asks. “Because we are determined, dedicated and disciplined to be fit. You can. You can do it.”

Her voice trails off under the beat of gym speakers blasting: “Young man, there’s no need to feel down. I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground.” Seven more counts.

“You can do this,” Shepherd says again. Her voice has a hint of urgency, as if the class means something deeper, as if she were trying to save the women behind her. She turns on her side and stretches out a lithe movie star leg.

But the truth is, most people in this class probably do not have the discipline it takes to reach Shepherd’s fitness level. Most people will not have the determination to run 10 miles before lunch, 80 miles a week, passing people by as if they were standing still. Most people will not want to eat only bland chicken, green beans and cups of plain brown rice and drink liquid egg whites, the lean protein diet of body builders, three times a day. Most people will not have the discipline to turn down that slice of chocolate cake in the cafeteria. Most people will not be able to say, as Shepherd says, “I really don’t have a desire for it.”
Washington Post.

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