November 27, 2019 at 4:40 p.m.

Assisting Hoosiers

Jay County has a Link to Indiana University athletics
Assisting Hoosiers
Assisting Hoosiers

On her first day as a volunteer, Samantha Link was overwhelmed.

She took the position thinking it would look good on her resume for future employers.

After that day, a sense of belonging rushed over her.

She knew she was in the right spot.

And her dedication to the role blossomed into one that earned her a paycheck.

Link, a 2017 Jay County High School graduate, is in the midst of her first full season as a sports nutrition assistant at Indiana University after volunteering as a sophomore.

“It was a very whirlwind thing,” she said of how it morphed so quickly. “I've been on staff with athletics since May officially. I plan on staying on staff as long as they'll have me.”

••••••••••

Many students have an idea of what they want to study and then find a college to pursue the degree. Link took a different route.

She knew she wanted to do something in the medical field, but wasn't necessarily set on a specific discipline. A daughter of a nurse, she explored a handful of Big Ten schools where she could envision herself as a student.

Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Indiana were chief among them.

It wasn't until she visited Bloomington that she decided to stay in state. But from there she had to figure out what path she wanted to pursue.

As she looked at IU's medical programs, nutrition stuck out the most to her.

It turned out to be an exact fit.

“It was kind of different,” she said. “I took a leap and it ended up being my biggest interest. I could not imagine myself at another program.”

In August 2018, Link started as a volunteer with the athletics department, working with director of sports performance nutrition Isaac Hicks III. She helped out with the Hoosier football program, and any of the other 23 sports teams as they needed assistance.

“I just remember her always being willing to do whatever I’d ask her to do,” said Hicks, whose official title is director of sports performance nutrition. “Just being very efficient in getting things done.”

Nearing the end of the spring semester, Hicks approached Link to ask if she would be sticking around Bloomington for the summer.

With a job lined up in Jay County, she had no plans of staying near the campus.

Hicks inquired because he wanted to offer her a job as his assistant.

“Of course I said yes without making an actual plan,” she said, laughing.

“I ended up finding an apartment, signed on it and made it work.”

••••••••••

Link's primary responsibility in the fall is with the football team in that it has the largest number of players. She has been to every game this year, whether on the road or home at Memorial Stadium.

Her main job is to take care of the snack station, the breakfast station — Chick-fil-A breakfast three days a week — and any other spread that may be in the facility.

Link and the other two assistants attend practice each day, making sure the players have access to anything they need, whether it be a quick bite to eat or anything to replenish electrolytes.

The same goes for game days.

She said the nutrition staff is at the stadium well before the players are. They set up the locker room with a wide variety of quick foods to eat, Gatorade, fruit snacks and a pouch of nearly pure sugar for a boost, as well as time them out so the athletes get the proper nutrition before the game starts.

“It is a lot of little things people don't think about, so on game days we just put it out and then we're done,” she said.

During the game, she and her fellow nutrition assistants are roaming the sidelines with gear packed with any sort of pick-me-up a player may need during battle on the gridiron.

“When our heavy sweaters come off we make sure they’re hydrated enough,” she said.

Following the game, they cater the post-game meal.

During typical game day, Link and her confidants arrive about four hours before kickoff and leave three hours after the final buzzer.

Nutrition, Link said, is typically a female-dominated industry, so she hasn’t encountered any issues of being a woman in a male-dominated field like athletic training.

The biggest problem she has encountered, however, was being accepted by the players as being knowledgeable when it comes to dieting and nutrition.

“Early on that was the biggest challenge,” she said. “A lot of them are the same age as you. It’s hard to get people the same age as you to think of you as an authority figure.”

To overcome that hurdle, Link simply had to build a rapport with the athletes. She knows their names and they know hers.

“I think moving past that the biggest thing was one, letting them know that I am educated to do that and if I was not, my boss would not have hired me and asked me to do these things,” she said.

••••••••••

Link learned in high school how to balance many extracurriculars at once. Outside of her normal duties as a student, Link was a member of the Jay County swim team for a couple years and was also a cheerleader. She was part of National Honor Society as well as a piece of the group that organized the group’s Feed My Starving Children fundraising and MobilePack event.

Finding that work-school balance has been easy for her in Bloomington.

“They work around my class schedule, which is amazing,” she said. “There is a lot of work that needs to be done that cannot be done in the time I have in the office.

For example, Link uses the design skills she gained from high school teachers Chris Krieg and Mandy Bruce — as well as her time working at T-Flyers in Portland — to design posters or cards to display with her spread in the locker room or for team meals.

“I take that stuff home with me,” she said. “I have to sit down and decide ‘This is everything that has to be done and I’m not going to get up until it’s done.’ It’s designating that time. You can’t procrastinate at all.

“It’s a lot of hours. If you’re doing something you love I’ll put as much time as I need to put into it.”

But according to her mentor, Link is perhaps too much of a go-getter.

“She is always willing to take on tasks,” Hicks said. “She will go get it done, maybe more so than she probably needs to.

“It’s great having those types of individuals … she can take care of it and she will, even in a lot of cases, go ahead without much guidance. If she has questions she’ll come and ask.”

Link has built up such a working relationship with Hicks, he said, that she has a sense of knowing how he will react to particular situations with how things should be designed or should be done.

“I think she gets where my mind is at and what I’m thinking for certain things to make things work more efficiently,” he said. “Just by her knowing that is awesome.”

It’s what validates his decision to hire her back in May.

“I have to say it is really nice, it is a breath of fresh air to have her, to have someone here that’s dependable like that,” he said.

••••••••••

Upon completing her undergraduate degree, Link hopes to pursue her master’s degree before taking the exam to become a registered dietician.

And with her involvement so far working in collegiate athletics, especially football, it’s the path she wants her career to take.

“I think based on my recent experience in football I do want to stick with a football team,” she said. “I think sports dietician is a small field. I think more professional football teams will be looking for dieticians hopefully by the time I’m a registered dietician.

“Hopefully I end up as a collegiate or professional dietician. This atmosphere is one that I want to stick with.”

Wherever Link finds herself working in five, 10 or 20 years from now, Hicks is confident she’ll succeed no matter what level she’s reached.

“She’s awesome,” he said. “She really has been a lot of help.

“Our department wouldn’t be where it’s at right now without a lot of the assistance that she has been.”
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