At 77 years old, Ernestine Shepherd holds the Guinness World Record as the World’s Oldest Performing Female Bodybuilder.
I was lucky enough to meet Ms. Shepherd a few years ago and while my first impression was “Wow, is she gorgeous!” I was most struck that her inner beauty far surpasses her impressive physique. If Sports Illustrated is looking for its next cover model, she’s got my vote!
So inspired am I by “Ernie” and her accomplishments that I’m dedicating today’s Friday 5 to a few lessons we runners–and all athletes–can learn from her.
1. It is never too late to start. Shepherd decided to start training at the age of 56 and didn’t start competing until she was in her seventies. Great confirmation that we 50+ and fabulous women can keep ourselves moving for years to come!
2. Sweatsuits are not just for sweating. I do not own a sweatsuit, however I could almost be talked into one like this turquoise one. She even had on matching ankle boots and had a matching jacket, which she took off for this picture. Still think sweatsuits are a fashion don’t every time?
3. Consistency is the key. Ernie was quick to stress this when I spoke to her – she is awake by 4am and runs every day! Her website also adds that she strength trains at least 4 times a week and teaches fitness classes 5 days a week. Now of course we don’t all have the time to devote to our athleticism, but hopefully hearing about others who are dedicated and disciplined like Ernie can inspire us to consistency in what works best for us.
4. If you want it, ask for it. Stay tuned for an Ask-A-Salty this week, in which Vanilla will talk about how asking for support from others can be hard, but the rewards are so great that it’s worth swallowing your pride and doing it.
Ernie embodies this to a tee! When she decided at age 71, fifteen years into her training, that she wanted to compete as a bodybuilder, she went directly to the person who could help her most, a former Mr. Universe, and asked him to train her. And the payoff was incredible; when she finally did compete she took first place in her class! And she did better than women decades younger!
5. Remain humble. When I met Ms. Shepherd through Black Girls, Run! she entered the room quietly and sat at her table without any entourage or commotion. When I approached her she greeted me as a friend and immediately hugged me, and she signed tons of autographs, answered all of our questions and gave the best advice she could.
Of course we’re not all celebrity athletes like Ernie is, but we can use her example to remind us to practice humility in our running lives by having an attitude of grace and respect toward ourselves and our fellow athletes. And humility extends to the physical realm as well – if you listen to your body and do your best while recognizing your limits, hopefully you’ll be running well into your seventies, just like Ernie Shepherd!
How does Ernestine Shepherd’s story inspire you? What other athletes inspire you?