Body Building Grandma Ernestine Shepherd Bench Presses, Runs Marathons At 73

Ernestine Shepherd, 73, said she is motivated by the memory of her sister.

ByABC News
April 26, 2010, 3:31 PM

April 27, 2010— -- Taut abs and rippling muscles aren't exactly the stuff grandmothers are known for. But then again neither are marathons and cell phones that play the theme to "Rocky."

At 73, Ernestine Shepherd is in better shape than most people decades her junior. Up at 3 a.m. every morning, she spends her days running, lifting weights and working out other senior citizens at the Union Memorial United Methodist Church in Baltimore. She also works as a certified personal trainer at her gym.

"I feel better than I did at 40," she said. "I am very, very happy."

In less than 20 years, Shepherd has morphed from a "prissy" woman who never exercised to the Guinness Book of World Records' oldest female bodybuilder.

A die-hard "Rocky" fan -- "Sylvester Stallone is my man," she cooed -- Shepherd is preparing for a body building competition this weekend.

"I feel now that I am a very strong, positive and confident woman," she said. "Years ago I concerned myself about what people said concerning me. But when you get 70-something and you don't have that many years in front of you, you don't concern yourself with that."

Instead, Shepherd concerns herself with her carefully formulated diet -- 1,700 calories a day, mostly comprised of boiled egg whites, chicken, vegetables and a liquid egg white drink -- and packing in the workouts needed to maintain her stunning physique.

Shepherd runs about 80 miles per week and bench presses 150 pounds. Bicep curls are done with 15- and 20-pound dumbbells.

Married for 53 years and grandmother to a 13-year-old, Shepherd said she is exactly where she wants to be.

Well, almost. She's been looking for an excuse to meet Michelle Obama and even offered to train her.

"I've been trying to get to that lady. And I can't get to her," she said. "It's so difficult."

Shepherd sees her jaw-dropping transformation as fulfulling a promise to her late sister, Mildred Blackwell, who died in 1992 of a brain anuerysm just over a year into the training that she believed would drive them to become the oldest living fitness competitors in the world.

"I kept up everything she said we were going to do," Shepherd said. "That's kept me so close to her."

Twenty years ago, Shepherd was working as a secretary in the Baltimore school system after 30 years with AT&T. Exercising was not part of the picture.

"I was too prissy to exercise," she said. "I just didn't want to have my hair messed up. Didn't want my fingernails broken."

Then, at 56, Shepherd found herself in a dressing room with her sister trying on swimsuits for a pool party.

"When we looked at each other we both laughed because we didn't look too good in those suits," Shepherd said. "She said 'Tina, we're going to have to do something about this.'"