I was looking through my favorite workout clothing catalogue (Athleta) and was surprised and delighted to see one of the legends of the bodybuilding world on the pages. Ernestine Shepherd is an amazing, inspiring 81 years young.
In 2010, Ernestine earned the title of the world’s oldest performing female bodybuilder. She isn’t currently competing but she weight trains 4 days a week and she runs up to 80 miles a week when she’s training for a marathon!
I sincerely enjoy watching her perform at such a high level and look forward to seeing news about her exploits when I’m reading my fitness magazines. I love that she’s doing her thing in the gym (and on the road) even though she’s not a spring chicken.
I’m not exactly a spring chicken either. One of the fantastic things about bodybuilding is that age doesn’t matter. It’s not like being a fashion model where you’re thrown aside at 25 or 30 years old. When it comes to the art of successful physique building, the older you are the more respect you get. I think it’s because anyone involved in the community knows full well how hard you have to work and how diligent and dedicated you have to be in order to get good results. That’s true whether you’re starting out at 15 or lifting into your 80’s like Ernestine. When I’m in the gym, I’m as likely to get a sincere compliment from a 23 year old as I am from a 70 year old. The longer you hang out in the fitness community the more pats on the back come your way…and that makes it a wonderful, welcoming place to practice your craft as you age.
I find little bits of inspiration and motivation all over the place. Yesterday, I saw photos of Staff Sgt. Sanchez finishing the Boston Marathon. He was running with an American flag as he crossed the finish line and I thought it was a particularly powerful image.
Later, I read a bit of his story and in it he said, “It’s not for me, it’s for others to be inspired, to be motivated.” Oh really? Well, mission accomplished! I, for one, am feeling particularly pumped up.
This story makes me feel appreciative, fiercely proud, uplifted and infused with energy. We all have challenges we need to face. It helps immensely to see someone else who has successfully met challenges of their own. It reminds you of the possible and how though wounded inside or out we can overcome, we can heal, we can re-fashion the shattered pieces of ourselves and continue to go forward…maybe just not the way we’d originally planned but forward nevertheless.
Staff Sgt. Sanchez’s story as featured on NBC Sports sponsored Olympic Talk.
“On the best day for Americans in the Boston Marathon’s prize-money era, it was a man who took nearly six hours to finish who provided the most indelible image of American pride.
Staff Sgt. Jose Luis Sanchez, a retired Marine who lost the lower part of his left leg stepping on an IED in Afghanistan in 2011, was filmed and photographed throughout Monday’s 26.2-mile race.
Sanchez wore a “Semper Fi” shirt, ran on a prosthetic left leg and carried an American flag.
“I wanted to not only recognize veterans, but everyone that thinks that they’re unable to do something,” Sanchez told media afterward. “I couldn’t stand up for more than three seconds or walk more than two feet [after stepped on an IED]. And I found my for four, five years, just to be able to walk farther, be able to lift my body up. I kept on pushing it. Mentally and spiritually, I was good, so I wanted to push it even farther and do the marathon.”
The flag Sanchez carried Monday was full of inspirational messages. Via Runner’s World:
The flag was sent to him by his patrol unit as he recovered in the hospital.
“I boxed it up for three or four years because I didn’t want to acknowledge it,” Sanchez said. “One day I opened it back up and read through the inspirational quotes they sent me and I was motivated.”
“It’s not for me, it’s for others to be inspired, to be motivated,” Sanchez said on local Boston TV in the finish area. “We live for others. I’ve learned that throughout being angry, being frustrated. With all that PTSD, I’m channeling it to do positive.”
He previously ran the Boston Marathon and Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., last year, carrying that same flag.”
I follow a lot of other blogs and Lifting My Spirits is one of my favorites. The author has a wonderful story. She’s living proof that it’s never too late to change your physique for the better. She absolutely explodes the myth that once you’re past 40 or 50 years old you just have to resign yourself to falling apart physically. I’m about to turn 53 and I just love seeing how she transformed herself. I want to give her a standing ovation! This reflects a bit of the journey she undertook to make herself stronger and to sculpt her body into a form that she found pleasing.
Transforming Into An Athlete In The Second Half Of Life
The first time I touched a barbell, I was 48 years old. I’m now 54.
Some people say my age is an irrelevant point about me as an athlete, but they are wrong. It’s extremely relevant. I was a fully formed adult with scars and strengths from living life before I decided to live a completely different way. And my decision impacted a lot of people who thought they knew who I was before I decided to be someone else. I’m still working on making sense of all this. Something yanked my chain this last week and I need to write to figure out what I think about things. Sorry – I need to be a bit cryptic about it because it’s private. But I believe humans have similar responses to things, even if details are different.
Please forgive me for veering into the past for a moment. If what I’m going to say later is going to make any sense, I need share parts of my personal history. I don’t feel comfortable doing that, because I don’t want to give the impression that I think my life has been difficult. It’s just been a “life”. But these things are a bit relevant to why I think what I think as I keep transforming into an athlete in the second half of my life…
- My scoliosis was diagnosed early in high school and I was pulled from all sports. I was told to be “careful” for the rest of my life. Between the ages of 17 and 24, I had at least two episodes when my back would freeze up and I could not move for about a week. I remember my mother pushing me around in a wheel-chair at the hospital to get x-rays. I believed all the adults who told me I was fragile.
- In my 20’s, I got a job at a gym as a receptionist. That’s when I first saw female bodybuilders in magazines. They were about my age, but they looked so strong – not fragile. I wanted that, but I was intimidated by it for a couple of really good reasons. 1) I have scoliosis and shouldn’t lift, and 2) women aren’t supposed to look like that – guys didn’t like it. I didn’t question those beliefs at the time. I accepted them and set other goals for my life.
- My mother died from a brain aneurysm when she was 56 and I was 28. I was the family member who was tasked with the decision to remove her from life support. I watched her die. I know some of you have had to do that, too. It’s not exactly like how they show it in movies or on Grey’s Anatomy.
- I decided to get a degree in mathematics and teach math because I was intimidated by it. That was when I began to do battle with my fears. The time span from my first day of college to my graduation with a degree in mathematics was 16 years. Mom died during this time and I lost my job because I needed to take a leave of absence to handle my mother’s affairs out of town. Once I could get back to work, I had as many as three part-time jobs to support myself and still have a schedule flexible enough to attend school during the day when the classes I needed were offered. This was the first time I set a scary goal and achieved it.
- For the last 20 years, I’ve taught math to teenagers, ages 15-18. Takes a little courage to show up and do that every day. Not many adults would want to attempt to manage a room of 30+ teenagers. Fewer can handle it when a whole bunch of them are anxious about what you are asking them to do. Math teachers are in short-supply these days. Burn out is high. Many students believe they will fail before they try, so they won’t try. They will do a lot of other things to avoid trying. While teaching geometry, I teach a lot of other things, too.
And that brings me back to my first point – the first time I touched a barbell, I was 48 years old. All of these other things happened years prior to that.
To decide to become a female bodybuilder at that point in my life, I had to challenge and beat down a lot of my own thoughts about what women can do, what a person with scoliosis can do, what a busy teacher can find time to do, and what a post-menopausal woman can accomplish in bodybuilding. I’m not saying my journey has been harder than someone else’s, because I know it hasn’t been. There is no comparison to what others have had to deal with to just get through another day. I have not had to survive trauma.
That said, I’ve still accomplished enough hard stuff to feel like I can do more. It’s my journey. I’ve already lived a life and I’m still in the mix. My ego tells me that I should be respected for that, but I can’t control what others say or think. (Yeah, something happened a couple days ago. I was hurt by it, but I learned something useful.) I remind myself what I’ve done to get here. My ego wants to puff up – that’s what others do, right? But that’s not going to help me do anything except become an asshole. I don’t need to defend my thoughts.
I am sensitive. I am scared. I am brave. I reflect. I learn. I overthink. I lose my focus sometimes, but I get it back. I tell my ego to shut the hell up. She just wants to generate negative thoughts that feed uncertainty about whether I will ever have tangible success as an athlete. I may always be a novelty act in public, she tells me. Ageism is alive and well, we all know that. Is that my only obstacle? Of course not. But it’s there. I can’t get younger, but I can improve. I may always be switched to the outside of the youngest, most novice bodybuilder in the line. If I’m a better bodybuilder than I was the last time I showed up, I guess that’s going to be enough. My voice may shake when I say “my journey on my terms“, but I’m still saying it. I’m still insisting on it.
“Why bother?” I ask myself almost every day. Almost every day, I quit. And then I recommit to what I’m doing as an athlete. The last year has been difficult. I may not be able to break this cycle until after I compete again. That last competition experience needs to be replaced by a new one before I’m going to get closure on what happened that day. Simply getting on stage again will be a win because I will be able to put away two years of trying to make sense of what will now be called the “2015 WTF Happened? Blesson”.
And then I touch a barbell and I happily battle gravity. I get a little bit of clarity when I’m at the gym. Lifting still fixes me. I love to train. That’s why I bother. Everything else is just distracting noise, whether it’s external or internal.
Yesterday I got a gift from Cpl. Josue Barron. He didn’t know he was doing anything to inspire or help me but he did. I get motivation to keep pushing against my limitations in a lot of places and yesterday, my “grit glass” was filled up by this man. Thank you Cpl. Barron!
Some would say the two-minute video captures everything that is best about the Marine Corps — a one-legged vet pushing through immense pain to conquer a colossal hill that memorializes fallen comrades. Beside him, brothers in arms shout words of encouragement and motivation. Within him, the memory of lost Marines provides strength to endure.
The climb was part of a five-year reunion that honored the Marines and families of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, which completed Afghanistan’s deadliest deployment in 2011.
The “Dark Horse” battalion made great gains, but at great cost, when it deployed in and around the town of Sangin, in Afghanistan’s embattled Helmand province. In seven months, the battalion saw 25 Marines killed in action and another 184 wounded. Nearly three dozen of the wounded returned home as single, double and triple amputees.
Among them is former Cpl. Josue Barron, who lost a leg and his left eye in the conflict, and is shown in the April 30 video.
“When I saw that steep hill, I doubted myself a little bit,” Barron told Marine Corps Times. And with good reason — First Sergeant’s Hill rises far above the regimental headquarters at Camp Pendleton, California, and is a beast for even healthy Marines.
Worse yet, the hill’s grade prevented Barron from performing the swinging motion needed to propel his prosthetic leg, which reaches to his hip. He decided to ditch the leg and press on.
“After a while my body went numb, but I wanted to get up there,” he said. “I have friends up there, and there was no way I was coming back down without reaching them.”
The friends of whom he speaks are names engraved on nearly two dozen wooden crosses. Marines put them up to honor their fallen, and the site has become hallowed ground. It is so special that a team of seven leathernecks rushed to rescue the memorial crosses just before wildfires consumed the hill in May 2014.
“We used to do that climb before we deployed, but the crosses didn’t go up until after that so I had never seen them,” Barron said. “It took me five years, but I made it.”
As Barron stood triumphant with friend and fellow Marine veteran Will Makaafi, who provided the loudest shouts of encouragement, the two were soon joined by four Gold Star families who also made climb.
“It was their way of honoring their boys,” said Mark Soto, who organized the reunion. He is also the father of a sergeant wounded in Sangin who has since been medically retired. Soto had started a Facebook page titled “The Boys of 3/5” as a way to help families share information and encouragement during the difficult deployment.
It was evident the bond and brotherhood fostered by the page would be needed long after the Marines returned home, Soto said, so the page never shut down. This led to the five-year reunion, which included 125 Marines and 350 family members. It even got a salute in a tweet from Commandant Gen. Robert Neller on Monday.
“We are trying to facilitate more of that this year,” he said. “We are just going to encourage people to stay connected. That is the best way to help each other because they trust each other.”
That is not lost Barron, who said many vets still face serious challenges. He is especially concerned about the high suicide rate among veterans.
“If someone sees me overcome my challenges, maybe they will think twice about overcoming theirs,” he said.
The reunion included honors from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego during a graduation parade, a barbecue and other typical events, but Soto said it was the hours spent atop the hill that made the event truly special.
Barron said it was an emotional time as he gave special tribute to his platoon commander, 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, who was killed instantly when he stepped on a landmine during a Sangin patrol in 2010. Though known by most as the son of retired Gen. John Kelly, Barron remembers the mustang officer differently.
“He was a good man, a good platoon commander, and a good Marine,” he said. “So were all of the men whose names are on that hill.”
Well, will you lookie here? Lynnie made the top of the chart! I’m Bodybuilding.com’s number one inspirational woman…50 and over.
Now nevermind about the under 50 list. That’s not important. Just concentrate on the 50 and over list. I’m making a joke. Everybody knows I’m not motivated by standings on lists or by trophies won by competing (never stepped on stage). I’m in it for love of the game. Personal satisfaction/pleasure is what keeps me going.
It was a happy surprise to find that my hard work and diligence is appreciated by others. It’s a lovely side note and one I discovered by happenstance. I have a Bodybuilding.com friend who posted a similar photo when he found he was high up on the men’s inspirational list. That’s what got me wondering about my standing. I’d never thought about it before but decided to look it up for fun. There I was right in the top spot. Cool!
I’ve always been happy with what bodybuilding has brought into my life. It brings a sense of calm, a comforting discipline, a structure that I find re-assuring. It brings me a healthy, strong body. It helps keep me mentally fit… all serious lifters know that you lift with your mind first. It’s your mind that controls your body and gets it to perform day after day.
Lifting teaches you to focus your attention, to be persistent in pursuit of goals, to “show up” when no one is checking or cares in the least. It’s a way of practicing excellence and it spills into every other area of life.
I’ll give you an example. I recently took on a project, a labor of love, a passion, a calling, that tapped into areas where I’m weaker than I would like. I’m a rather reserved person, not the chatty type unless I know someone reasonably well. In a group, I’m a watcher first way before I’m a talker. Asking someone for help with anything is a difficult proposition for me. So what did I do? Started a project where I had to rely almost exclusively on asking other people for help. That’s right…. I had to ask for help. Not only that, I had to make presentations to various groups of people as I was soliciting that help. The horror! I would honestly much rather jump out of a plane (WITH a parachute, just to be clear) than have to address a group of strangers. Yes, intellectually, I understand that’s a ridiculous position but I’ve never had any success talking myself out of it. It’s just the way I’m hard-wired.
There was no way to pull the project together without doing things I struggle with but I wasn’t about to fail out of personal weakness. Not interested, not ever! I always picture myself at the end of life looking back and having to critique my performance. I couldn’t stand it if I avoided doing something I knew was important because I collapsed from my own shortcomings.
I had to bring to bear some of the lessons learned over the years from bodybuilding.
1. You never get anywhere without diligent work
2. You’re going to be very uncomfortable sometimes but the pain is worth the outcome.
3. You’re going to have setbacks and you can’t let that stop you….keep moving forward no matter what.
4. There are times you have to swallow your pride and just do what it takes to get the job done.
5. Put in a little work each day. A whole bunch one day, followed by nothing for many days doesn’t fly.
6. Ignore the naysayers and people who try to throw you off your game. People have many reasons for trying to distract you from your goals. Don’t let them.
7. Baby steps are fine and are to be celebrated. It’s those baby steps that will finally get you to your goal.
In the next couple of weeks, I’ll reveal specifically what project I’ve been working on! You’re gonna love it!
I always advise people to find fitness activities that suit their personalities. After all, there’s more than one way to skin the cat. You may or may not find pleasure in lifting weights as I do. Perhaps you’d be much happier swimming laps at the pool for exercise. Maybe tennis appeals to you or you might find that fencing is your thing. What you do doesn’t matter so much as that you do something to keep your body moving and keep your muscles challenged. There isn’t much to be gained by forcing yourself to do things you don’t enjoy.
Every day I see people at the gym who have that grim look pasted to their faces. They’re obviously miserable and their approach to exercise lacks any spark of joy. You know when someone enjoys what they do. I happen to love lifting. My friend Derek loves, lifting, swimming and running too. He does it all and he does it with great enthusiasm. That’s why I love having him for a friend. He’s absolutely inspiring. No way I’m going running or swimming but that doesn’t matter. I get great pleasure watching him pursue his fitness interests and it gives me more energy to chase my own goals.
Put simply, Derek has a great positive approach to exercise and it makes me happy to see him go after it day after day. I get a kick out of his enthusiasm. He’s always testing the boundaries and trying new things and feats of strength. I see them and I want to do them too. Sometimes I’m very successful and sometimes….
The moral of this story is to surround yourself with people who love what they’re doing. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same thing you choose. You may or may not be able to do what they do but attitude really is everything and success breeds success.
Derek makes fun out of work. He’s obviously no stranger to the grind. His physique tells a story of dedication and great effort and his photos tell you how much he enjoys what he does. I can’t always do what he does but I like to try…so if you see me at the gym hanging upside down or swinging from an overhead bar, there’s a good chance that he was my motivation. That’s right, any shenanigans in the gym and I’m saying Derek made me do it!
I was standing at my kitchen sink washing dishes just a couple of days ago when I saw something that made me laugh. There was a robin outside the window who had a 4ft length of string in her mouth and she was pulling it with all her might. One end was knotted in a tangled mess around the leg of a deck chair and the other end was in her beak. She was diligently trying to get it loose but it was obviously impossible. I thought about going out there and untangling it for her but then had second thoughts since that would mean the string would smell of human and then she might not want it. I figured if she kept trying she might be able to pull a few of the frayed parts or little wisps off the main part of the string and use that part for her nest.
The next day I went out onto the deck and looked up into the eaves. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The string….the WHOLE string was up in her nest! She did what I thought was going to be impossible for her.
That little robin must have worked the whole day to get that string up into her nest. It made me think of the role tenacity plays in life…bird life and human life too. It’s not always the most talented or the most fit for the task that gets things done. Sometimes it’s pure persistent, stick-to-itiveness that does the trick. It’s that way in the gym for sure. It’s not necessarily the most athletic or the genetically gifted that end up with the best physiques. A lot of the time the prize goes to the most tenacious person, the one who shows up, stays on task and pushes forward without getting discouraged. That little, mama robin has a message for us all. Success belongs to those who KEEP ON TRYING!
The following was a note to me from a bodybuilder friend of mine. I loved the passion he expressed and his unwillingness to settle into self pity or weakness after a significant health issue. It made me happy to read and reminded me again how strong the human spirit is. I asked Eric if I could share it here and he graciously agreed.
These past few months have not been an easy path in the summer of last year I got very ill with a mini stroke and could not train anymore it almost killed me. When I started going back to the gym I was so weak and I was a little depressed I almost gave up then then a fire lit in side of me a fire that said I would rather die than be normal I would rather die than be weak. So I started pushing I could barely bench 185 pounds on the bench I was used to repping 315 25 times. But I never gave up and not only got my get my size back and my strength back I became stronger than I ever had in my life and I maxed out at 520 pound on flat bench raw I am so proud of myself so anyone reading this know that no matter what you can do it. The hell with the nay Sayers they want you to be as weak as them the hell with them push hard and push forever.
Warm up 5.4 miles on bike
Flat bench barbell
520 x1 new max YEAH BABY LIGHT WEIGHT AHAHAHAHHAAHAH
Back t bar rows
Mid range cable rows
Reverse lat pull down
People often ask me how I started on this fitness journey of mine. One of the first influences I can remember came from an unlikely place. When I was a teenager I was a voracious reader. I read anything and everything but I loved adventure novels the best. One day while thumbing through the paperbacks at a local bookstore I found the Conan the Barbarian series. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novels but it was the artwork on the covers that stayed with me and moved me in the direction of sculpting my body using weights. The cover illustrations on the books in the series were created by an artist named Boris Vallejo. It was the first time I saw any of his work but certainly not the last.
As compelling as the paintings of his male figures were, it was the images of the women in his art that captured my imagination.
The women were beautiful to me. They were curvaceous, strong, muscular and incredibly attractive. At the time I had no idea how to get from the tiny 94lb person I was to anything close to what those women represented but I knew without a doubt that it was a look I loved. I didn’t have any real women in my life who remotely resembled Boris’ women but just seeing them in paintings made an indelible impression.
I recently received a note from another artist telling me that I inspired one of his pieces. His name is Jay Valintino. He’s a successful bodybuilder and an obviously talented airbrush artist.
Lucky me…I was inspired by an artist and I managed to inspire one. It’s one of those fun circle in life. It puts me in the mood to give back. To create something beautiful of my own.
Honest to goodness it gives me a happy tingle to think that a piece of art I created could inspire someone on a path to sculpting a fantastic physique. It feels good to give back!