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Arnold School of Public Health

  • Sarah Rzepka

Gamecock Football intern plans career in sports nutrition

December 4, 2023 | Erin Bluvas,

Sarah Rzepka owes her career path in nutrition, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic. Inspired by her part-time job keeping children safe and healthy while their parents exercised at a local gym, the Waxhaw, North Carolina native was already planning to study public health at USC.

“I originally believed I wanted to pursue a career in speech-language-pathology and work with children,” Rzepka says. “But when COVID-19 put an end to my senior year, I became increasingly interested in health and nutrition.”

Public health’s emphasis on human behavior and health promotion pairs perfectly with the physiological science, which drives our understanding of nutrition.

Sarah Rzepka

She spent the lockdown period listening to podcasts and reading books/articles about the topics. When her mother asked why she wasn’t pursuing a career in nutrition, Rzepka decided to shift her path.

“Public health’s emphasis on human behavior and health promotion pairs perfectly with the physiological science, which drives our understanding of nutrition,” the Capstone Scholar says. “I am grateful I chose a program focused on holistic and population-level health rather than nutrition alone.”

She can trace her decision to attend USC back to her childhood when she played “college” in a friend’s basement. Rzepka would pretend to have class and work at Starbucks. When she began looking at colleges, she knew that her real college had to offer the same charm as the make-believe one she had envisioned. USC delivered.

Over the past three-and-a-half years (yes, she’s graduating a semester early), Rzepka immersed herself in the undergraduate experience. In addition to her involvement in the Capstone Scholar program, as a member of the Chi Omega sorority, and through serving as a supplemental instruction leader with the Student Success Center, Rzepka gained valuable research and practice experience.

Sarah Rzepka
Sarah Rzepka graduates this month with a B.A. in Public Health. 

Working with faculty in the Department of Exercise Science (EXSC) she has examined the impact of lactation on women’s cardiovascular health during pregnancy and postpartum. Rzepka is currently working with EXSC professor and Prevention Research Center director Sara Wilcox on an independent study using data from Wilcox’s and Jihong Liu’s study, Health in Pregnancy and Postpartum (HIPP) project.

Supporting Gamecock Football here and Gator Football at the University of Florida, Rzepka dove into the world of sports nutrition. Within these programs, she spent hundreds of hours assisting in hydration testing, post-practice recovery fueling, and daily meals for three fall camps, three seasons, two summer workout periods, and both the Dukes Mayo and TaxSlayer bowl games. These experiences have clarified her career goal to pursue a career in football nutrition.

“I believe a career in sports nutrition pairs my charismatic approach to health with my detail-oriented focus,” Rzepka says. “The hustle involved in feeding and educating 150+ athletes to beat Clemson excited me, whether that be replenishing a lineman’s glycogen stores with a Rice Krispie treat at halftime or coordinating with caterers and hotel staff the meals surrounding just one game.”

After her graduation this month, Rzepka plans to pursue a graduate degree in the field while continuing to gain experience working alongside sports dietitians. She also plans to become a registered dietitian.

“My long-term goal is to become a director of football nutrition,” Rzepka says. “I’d like to create a health-promoting program for athletes from all walks of life to understand and appreciate the power of food in performance.”

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