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The fittest of seniors keynotes Charlotte health symposium
Ernestine Shepherd, 82, is champion bodybuilder
Published Wednesday, June 20, 2018 1:33 pm
by Herbert L. White

Ernestine Shepherd looks too good to be true.

Shepherd, 82, is a competitive bodybuilder and spokeswoman for healthy living among seniors. She will speak June 23 at UnitedHealthcare’s “A Better You,” a series of health and wellness educational events. Two forums at The Mint Museum Uptown, 500 South Tyron St. The forums, which are supported by AARP, will start at 10:30 a.m. and at 2:30 p.m.

Ernestine Shepherd, 82, is a keynote speaker at “A Better You” June 23 in Charlotte. Shepherd, who has 10 percent body fat, won her first competitive bodybuilding tournament at age 71, also runs marathons.

For the fourth consecutive year, Shepherd is taking part by sharing her story. Other scheduled speakers are Rev Monica Redmond of St. Paul Baptist Church, Rev. Walter Bowers of Ebenezer Baptist Church. Live music from the vocal group The Persuasions is also part of the program.

“A Better You was a no-brainer for me because the purpose of UnitedHealthcare is to encourage African American seniors to embrace aging with vitality and to plan for a healthy lifestyle,” Shepherd said. “A Better You will help African American seniors understand their Medicare options also the event will provide details on the details of different parts of Medicare and that is just  wonderful, because I always tell people to live a healthy, positive, confident lifestyle.”

Vanity led Shepherd into fitness. While shopping for a swimsuit with her sister Velvet, Shepherd, who was 56 at the time, realized she didn’t have the body for it.

“Velvet and I hadn’t been in a bathing suit in years,” Shepherd said. “We went to purchase these suits, we looked at each other and wow. We knew we had to take those suits off because we just looked terrible.”

The sisters enrolled in an aerobics class, but when Velvet, who was a year older, died suddenly from a brain aneurysm, Shepherd dropped out. Velvet, who had begun lifting weights and giving motivational speeches before she died, provided inspiration to her younger sister.

“Velvet told me ‘if you want the joy I’m having, you’d better get busy,’” Shepherd recalled. “So I started lifting weights.”

Since then, Shepherd, who is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 130 pounds,  has become a fitness ambassador, especially for seniors. She competes in 5 kilometer (3.1 miles) and 10K races as well as marathons. A typical day includes waking at 4 a.m. to put in a 10-mile run. Shepherd’s body fat ratio of 10 percent is consistent with world-class male athletes in their prime.

She won her first bodybuilding class competition at age 71 at the Natural East Coast Tournament of Champions, besting women who were decades younger.
Velvet constantly insisted “age is nothing but a number,” Shepherd said. “If ever there were an anti-aging pill, you would have to call it exercise.”
Medicare basics will be the Charlotte forum’s focus – including the different parts of the program, eligibility requirements and enrollment windows – to help them make informed health care coverage decisions.

“It’s important for people to understand their options in order to choose the Medicare coverage that best fits their unique health needs,” said UnitedHealthcare’s Rita Tolbert, who will facilitate the Medicare education portion of the events. “UnitedHealthcare is grateful for the opportunity to continue to offer valuable information that will help people lead healthier lives through an inspirational, culturally relevant initiative.”

UnitedHealthcare offers other resources tailored for Medicare beneficiaries, including www.medicaremadeclear.com, where people can find clear, easy-to-understand information that breaks down the complexities of Medicare. The site also provides health and wellness information to help older adults and other beneficiaries manage chronic conditions and enhance their quality of life.

The events are free, and for more information or to RSVP, call (888) 385-1995 or visit www.abetteryou.info.


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