Middle Georgia celebrates first wellness and fitness festival

Ernestine Shepherd never exercised a day in her life until she was 56 years old.

She started working out with her sister after they both realized they needed to get in shape.

About eight months later, Shepherd’s sister died from an aneurism. But before she died, she asked Shepherd to keep on exercising.

And did she ever.

Shepherd was named World’s Oldest Performing Female Bodybuilder by Guinness World Records at age 71 and has been a guest on Oprah Winfrey’s television show. She’s listed as “Granny Six Pack” in “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!”

On Friday, Shepherd, now 78, was the celebrity guest for the opening luncheon of the first Middle Georgia Wellness & Fitness Festival.

“My ministry is to motivate and inspire others to live a healthy, happy, positive, confident lifestyle by exercising (and) eating correctly,” said Shepherd, who is from Baltimore. “I tell everyone age is nothing but a number, and if ever there were an anti-aging pill, you would have to call it exercise.”

Charise Stephens, founder and director of the weekend-long festival, said she thought Shepherd would be a good guest to kick off the first year.

“With Macon being an ‘Age-Friendly Community,’ we thought it would be appropriate to have someone who is getting older in age (and) also feeling healthier than they’ve felt in all their lives,” Stephens said. “No matter what age you are, you can be healthy and fit.”

Stephens was on a quest to get healthy when she had the idea for the festival.

“I know the statistics for Macon and what it entails for our obesity rates for children and adults,” Stephens said. “I sat down and thought, ‘We have so many festivals in Macon, from Cherry Blossom to beer to everything. Why not incorporate a wellness festival so people can get excited about being fit?’ ’’

The festival began Friday and runs through Sunday. Events include a fitness competition, a community fitness event, and Sunday’s Running for Ronald 5.12K Smile Mile race at Tattnall Square Park. Most events require pre-registration, but Stephens said Saturday’s community fitness event is free and open to the public.

It will take place at Macon’s convention center 9 a.m.-noon Saturday.

“We’re going to have about 50 exhibitors including people who will be doing blood screenings to different vitamins that you can use and different exercises,” Stephens said. “We’re going to have (representatives from) different gyms there that are going to be giving out guest passes.”

Festival-goers also will have a chance to try Zumba, yoga and other exercises at no cost.

“My hope is that (people) will have the tool kits to be healthy,” Stephens said. “This is not just a one time festival, this is an avenue so we can support each other to be healthy.”

For more information, go to www.midgafitness festival.weebly.com.