A BODYBUILDING grandma has told how she bravely turned her life around after the tragic death of her beloved sister.
Ernestine Shepherd – the world’s oldest female competitive bodybuilder – is in the best shape of her life at the ripe old age of 86.
The grandma can easily outlift the majority of gymgoers after guzzling ten egg whites and a handful of walnuts each morning.
She credits the protein-rich concoction for fuelling her body to run 80 miles each week and getting up for her 4am workouts.
But the fitness fanatic, from Baltimore, only ventured into her health journey after hitting her 50s.
Ernestine was “prissy” when it came to exercise in her teen years and had never worked out a day in her life – until the age of 56.
She had been shopping for swimwear with her beloved sister Velvet, 57, when the pair vowed they would get into better shape.
The sisters, encouraged by the support of their local church, hit the gym and soon began to notice a huge difference in their physiques.
After getting into lifting weights, the sisters dreamed that one day they would make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.
But tragedy struck when Velvet suddenly passed away after suffering a brain aneurysm – sending Ernestine into a spiral of depression and anxiety.
“I went to pieces; I didn’t want to do anything… It was an awful way to live,” she said.
But after the gran’s pals rallied around her and her late sister came to her in a dream, she was inspired to restart her fitness journey and turn her life around.
Motivated by her love for Sylvester Stallone in the acclaimed Rocky films, Ernestine set out to achieve health and happiness.
Determined to bag a world record in honour of Velvet, she began sculpting her body into the perfect form for bodybuilding.
She got in touch with former Mr Universe, Yohnnie Shambourger, who offered his expertise to help her achieve world glory.
Ernestine switched up her diet and upped her weightlifting to create her enviably toned bod, before entering her first contest just seven months later, aged 71.
She won first place – seeing The Guinness Book of World Records contact her to crown her as the world’s oldest performing female bodybuilder in 2010.
The elderly marvel confessed she scattered some of her sister’s ashes while accepting the title on an Italian TV show.
“I’ll never forget standing on that stage as I collected my medal and certificate,” she gushed. “‘I’ve done what you wanted, Velvet’, I remember saying as tears filled my eyes.”
Ernestine’s triumph sparked a flood of interest in her lifestyle, seeing her earn a spot in Ripley’s Believe it or Not! book in 2011.
But she remained focused on her fitness, performing in several more bodybuilding competitions and completing nine marathons.
The 86-year-old claims chat show host Oprah Winfrey even Skyped her once to get workout tips.
Ernestine’s strength has continued to build, seeing her bench-press 115lb weights at the age of 86 to keep her muscles defined.
She now offers her knowledge to other seniors keen to get fit by running exercise classes as well as working as a personal trainer.
But she is still down with the kids and dons tight-fitting gym sets – and sometimes even heels – when burning some calories.
As well as being a role model for her husband, son and grandson, Ernestine has even “adopted” a group of youngsters at the gym who refer to her as “mum”.
Her incredible transformation even caught the eye of global superstar Beyonce – who gave her a cameo in her 2020 visual album Black is King.
Flexing her muscles and donning a bright orange t-shirt, the gran gave the music icon just as good as she got.
Ernestine gushed: “It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. Beyonce made me feel like a queen. I felt so honoured.
“I felt like I had the power to smile again. Beyonce has no idea what she’s done for me.”