We all have those shining moments in life that strike us beautifully as fate. When all the pieces seem to fit, and the path ahead of us appears to open up with startling clarity. But what about those many other moments, events, and periods when the opposite seems true? When grasp as we might we can find no reason to peacefully explain pain, loss, suffering; when we find ourselves wrapped up in fog. So often it is these moments, when we are challenged, tested, and hurting, that we look back on as the most pivotal. For Longmont United Hospital Clinical Exercise Physiologist Roberta Mecklenberg, a time of anguish played a most significant role in shaping who she is today–her outlook, career, and approach to fitness, health and wellness. She will always grieve because of it; but she will respect and even appreciate the strength, direction and determination she cultivated in response.
Roberta felt called by Colorado for some time before she eventually settled here in Longmont three years ago. Born and raised in New York, she joined her sister in Peetz, Colorado, after graduating from high school intent on a gap year helping out on her sister and husband’s farm while working as a DJ at a local radio station. Two years later she left Peetz for Phoenix, Arizona, with her best friend. There, she met and married her ex-husband. When her oldest son Adam was just five weeks old, the young family moved to Englewood, Colorado, where they lived for one year until Roberta’s husband was transferred to Massachusetts. The couple welcomed two more children while in New England, Paul and Luke. Baby Luke was born with a heart defect; throughout the six precious days of his life he underwent three surgical procedures. They were not enough. “It was devastating,” Roberta says. “I craved a little solitude; I needed time and space to process, to gain clarity, to fight the internal demons. I was already into running, but the loss propelled me to go longer distances. It literally helped me regain my feet under me.”
Before long, Roberta was hooked on long-distance running. She ran her first of more than a dozen marathons so far in Boston, as a bandit. “This was such a pivotal time for me,” Roberta says. “I was able to gain back a sense of healthy control through running. And I realized I wanted to help people with their health and fitness goals. I realized keenly, exercise is medicine.”
Roberta ran cautiously the first 6 months of her next and final pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy daughter, Zoe. Her husband’s job then took them from Massachusetts to Texas, where Roberta earned her degree in Kinesiology and Exercise Science from Texas Woman’s University. Following her divorce not long after, she packed up and headed back to Colorado with her children, craving a new start. There, she began working at Poudre Valley Hospital in the cardiovascular lab. She thrived in her new career, and in the trademark Colorado lifestyle. She reveled in the trails and exalted in long bike rides, mountain and road. While on a mountain bike ride in Moab, she met people who inspired her to relocate to Nederland, where she began working for Boulder County as a fitness instructor.
One afternoon roughly four years ago, Roberta found herself sitting in the airport perusing job listings while awaiting a flight. She was returning to New York to be with her mom, who had just had heart surgery. “I missed clinical work,” she said. “My son’s heart defect. My mom’s surgery. Working with people with cardiac issues felt right.” Just prior to boarding her flight, Roberta saw Longmont United Hospital was looking for a Clinical Exercise Physiologist and her eyes locked on the position. When she returned from her trip, she applied and was offered the job.
Today, Roberta revels in her work assisting others with their health goals. “I pinch myself every day, I love my job so much,” she says. “I get to work with wonderful people, one-on-one and in small groups. Our classes are comprised of eight people. I set folks up with plans, modify to their needs, help with stress management, exercise routines, nutrition. And I get to have these intimate conversations. I am continuously inspired by my patients.”
As much as Roberta is inspired, she is inspiring, and then some. Skilled and compassionate, she knows how to truly listen, and delights in doing so. And she sets a supreme, healthy example. She is dedicated to fitness, but not so rigid that she fails to see when rest is the best form of ‘training’. She enjoys an active commute. She runs and rides with joy.
Roberta enjoys a range of competitive events here in Colorado and the surrounding area, but one stands out annually as the most special, hands-down. The Tour of Wyoming is a beautiful showcase of Wyoming’s scenery taking place over six days in July. It also happens to coincide with the dates of her departed son Luke’s short, beloved life. On Roberta’s first year as a participant, and this past year, the dates lined up exactly. “This is my time to honor Luke,” Roberta says, parental love quietly and tenderly shining in her eyes. “It is a celebration of health, of healthy exercise, of strength, and of him.”
Thank you, Roberta, for sharing your moving story and journey. And thank you for the special impact you make on our #HealthyLongmont community every day!
LWL: You’ve referenced feeling inspired by your patients. Would you mind sharing an example?
Roberta: The work I do, with a number of older patients, makes me have so much respect for the elderly. When I meet people who can get to where they are and are not only not completely jaded, but also have a sense of humor, I take heart. This one guy I work with, he’s 84. He’s a tall big guy of about 6’3”. He and his wife have 10 kids, including two disabled sons in their 50s whom he and his wife still care for. He has the best sense of humor! He is so sweet and pleasant.
LWL: How has working with a large number of older patients helped shape your outlook on aging healthfully?
Roberta: I want to keep going with good exercise into my 90s. I see what a difference it makes. I value consistency, flexibility, versatility. Always challenge yourself, but also be respectful of limitations. Some days you need to back off.
LWL: Do you work primarily with the elderly?
Roberta: We live in a crazy world. We’re getting younger and younger patients all the time. And they don’t fit a template. We get many who appear healthy, normal weight. It’s job stress that is the big wild card. The numbers really emphasize how crucial it is we take charge of what we can in terms of adopting a sustainable healthy lifestyle.
LWL: What does your personal fitness routine look like?
Roberta: I ride my bike to work every morning. I try to do something every day. I have learned it’s important to adapt and be flexible. Tuesdays and on the weekends I have off, so I can plan longer runs, rides and races. Mondays I typically take off outside of commute. Although on Mondays I do participate in a strength class at work, taught by the amazing Dawn. It’s fantastic. We replicate it on Wednesdays the best we can. I have a TRX hanging up in my garage. I’m passionate but not super intense and rigid. I think of myself foremost as an outdoor fitness enthusiast.
LWL: What do you do to prioritize healthy eating?
Roberta: I’m pescatarian, and I eat a lot of vegetables. I am LOVING the pop-up farm-to-hospital markets Tuesday afternoons at LUH!
LWL: What’s your favorite healthy food?
Roberta: Scallops. I love them with angel hair pasta. And I love to make scallops with a delicious superfood salad made with kale, edamame, chopped broccoli, and craisins. So good.
LWL: What do you treasure most about Longmont?
Roberta: It has enough of an urban feel and access to all you need, but has that rural feel, especially on the outskirts. I love the back roads and trails of SW Longmont.
LWL: What would you like to see in Longmont’s healthy future?
Roberta: I love the momentum we have. I’m looking forward to more healthy restaurants. I’d like to see Longmont keep the great progress going. So much initiative– like the bike share. I would love to see more and more bike-friendly developments.