Trainer, 71, is inspiration to clients
By Ericka Blount Danois | Special to The Sun
February 3, 2008
On this rainy day, only the resolute are in Energy Fitness Center on Liberty Road in Randallstown , getting in their evening workout.
In the corner of the gym, Ernestine Shepherd is quietly training a petite client, Cynthia Evans, who weighs 110 pounds and is 4 foot 11 inches tall. They are working on their rear delts, lifting 5-pound weights and stretching their arms into a "T" before they move on to the 30-poundweights.
It would all seem pretty dreary -- the rain, the routine of weightlifting -- if it weren't for the fact that Shepherd, at age 71, is so dazzling to watch. Wearing red sweat pants, a red-and-white sports bra and a baseball cap that reads, "Determined, dedicated, disciplined to be fit," she is a unique figure in the world of fitness.
Shepherd's attitude lends credence to the adage "age ain't nothing but a number." Five days a week, she trains women of all ages -- three days at Energy gym and two days at her church, Union Memorial United Methodist Church , 2500 Harlem Ave. , where she has a class of 25.
· ERNESTINE SHEPHERD
Profession: Certified personal trainer and retired school secretary at City Springs School in South Baltimore .
Training grub: She drinks 16 ounces of water and eats a light snack that includes a bagel with peanut butter or two hard-boiled eggs before starting her workout.
On the run: Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer, Turkey Trot, Women's Classic in Baltimore, Resolution Run at Patterson Park, Race for the Kids, the Dreaded Druid Hills at Druid Hill Park, Baltimore Marathon..
Other acclaim: Has appeared in Essence (1991 and 2003); The Baltimore Times (2002); and the book Self Seduction, Ultimate Path to Inner and Outer Beauty (2003); has appeared on The View (2001); in a Carmax commercial (2004); and in the Miss America Senior Pageant (2004). She models for Nova Models in Baltimore .
Status: Married to Collin Shepherd, 77, for 52 years. They have a son and a grandson.
What her husband says: "She is a very determined person and she is not only in this for herself, she is interested in helping other people, including myself," he says. "We exercise at home. She is an inspiration to me; sometimes I get lazy, but she gets on me. I learned you are never too old to exercise."
"I usually start off with about 15 minutes of cardio, running in place, then we do floor exercises working on the abs, legs, upper and lower obliques, and then we proceed with the weights," she says about her training sessions that last about an hour. Wendy Barry, 38, started training with Shepherd six months ago. After her weight went up to 241 pounds, she started working with a nutritionist and lost 50 pounds.
When she started working with Shepherd, she lost another 20 pounds and traded her size 22 dress for a size 8. Some days she walks 10 miles with Shepherd before she goes to work at the Department of Social Services in Baltimore .
With 10 percent body fat, Shepherd is 5-foot-5 and about 130 pounds of inspiration to her clients, many of whom she includes in her routine of walking or running, which begins at 4 a.m. at Druid Hill Park.
Sharron Woods, 60, and her mother, 85-year-old Eva Miller, attend Shepherd's Saturday class at the church. Both are former body builders who have successfully competed in weight-lifting competitions.
When Miller was 70, at 5 feet 3 inches tall and 150 pounds, she could bench press 175 pounds. So she and her daughter were skeptical when they began Shepherd's first class and were instructed to run in place.
"I looked at my mother and said, 'This is not going to get it; we are used to vigorous exercise,' " Woods says. "Well, then she pulled out some exercises I had never seen.. Before we left, I was begging for more."
Some of the exercises, Woods recalls, included trunk twists while holding a pole-- right, and then left, before going down and doing squats still holding the pole.
Still, Woods wasn't convinced. When Shepherd asked her to run with her in the morning, her first thought was, "She's 70, I can keep up with her." "That woman was a road runner!" remembers Woods. "I am really energized working out with her."
Her mother was equally humbled: "She didn't go easy on me because of my age," says Miller, who works part time as a teacher's aide in the Baltimore school system. "She works me just like she works everybody else."
Indeed, she even works hard enough that her former trainer, Raymond Day, can't keep up with her.
Though he runs with her some mornings, he is reluctant to take her up on offers to participate in the marathons she runs in. In addition to her regular workout routine and training others, Shepherd has participated in numerous 5K and 10K races and marathons.
But Shepherd hasn't always had a focus on fitness in her life. In fact, in her younger days she was a "prissy" girl, with little athletic interests.
It wasn't until she turned 56 that she began to exercise with the aid of her sister.
They were both spurred on to join a gym after shopping for bathing suits and not liking what they saw in the mirror.
Day trained them both at a gym on U.S. 40 and remembers that Shepherd was in good shape, but had a lot of body fat and didn't know how to lift weights. Her sister, a year older, acclimated her body quickly to the routines.
Then one day in 1992, her sister came into the gym complaining of a ringing in her ears. "A few days later, she passed away," remembers Day. "She had a brain aneurysm that burst in her head. They were really close, they did everything together." "When she died, I said I didn't want to do anything," says Shepherd, a retired Baltimore schools secretary. "A friend of mine said, 'You know your sister wouldn't want you to do that.' "
Day says that when she decided to come back to the gym, she came back with a new vigor and dedication. Before long, people would compliment her on how she looked. "She was the most dedicated person I have ever trained," says Day, who worked with her for 15 years.
Nowadays, she works with nutritionist Todd Swinney. She keeps busy by modeling in magazines and commercials and recently participated in the Senior Miss America pageant in Baltimore .
But mostly she inspires others.
"She is a people person," says Woods. "She is constantly asking, 'How do you feel about this? Are you feeling OK?' Most people just follow a routine and they don't pay attention to how you feel. With Ernestine, every day is different.
"So that means, it not only keeps you thinking, it keeps your body thinking and challenges your body," she says. Miller agrees.
"She is amazing," she says. "I don't think I'll ever look like that, but I am working on it!"
Let's get it, ladies and gents!!! If she can do this, so can we!