She’s gone through staff turnover in her own area, a coaching change in football, the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down college athletics for months and a generational February snow blizzard that closed school for a week.
Organizing food delivery and care packages in those crisis moments, J-Buzz has been “the tip of the spear” in Baylor Athletics’ response to student-athletes’ needs over the last 15 months.
“This past year has shown and provided several examples of how quickly she can respond to a situation, problem-solve and ultimately provide support for our student-athletes,” said Kenny Boyd, Senior Associate AD for Student-Athlete Health & Wellness.
But, those crisis moments merely “complement what she does overall and how she cares for them” in Buzzard’s role as Director of Performance Nutrition.
“I think what a lot of people see is the food delivery,” Boyd said. “But, it’s also her one-on-one interactions with those that are struggling with other issues around food and sensitivities with food, and then overall performance values of what she’s doing from that side, too.”
Julie Anna’s interest in sports nutrition actually started when she saw how it benefitted one of her older sisters, who was dealing with exercise-induced hypoglycemia as a high school runner.
“When I saw how she was able to dial in her nutrition to be able to run successfully and figure it out, I was like, ‘Wow, nutrition can really impact me,”’ she said. “I started really getting into how I could eat better to be a faster runner and a better athlete. This was when sports nutrition was emerging as a profession. Everyone knew what dietitians were, but they were just clinical, in a hospital. I really wanted to work with athletes.”
That’s what led Julie Anna to leave a tight-knit community in Rockford, Ill., where “everybody knew everybody,” and travel 800 miles to enroll at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, with an enrollment of almost 40,000.
“I didn’t know one person when I went down there,” said Buzzard, a cross country runner at Rockford Lutheran School who also played club soccer. “That was definitely a culture shock from Northern Illinois, small private Christian school, where I knew everyone. I just like putting myself in new situations and meeting new people.”
Other than joining a sorority, her new “community” was Alabama athletics, where she was a student worker in athletics performance and nutrition.
“I was making hundreds of Smoothies a day, and I couldn’t tell you how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we had to make,” she said. “That was a great experience, because I really got to know how much athletes eat. On the clinical side in hospitals, we’re not seeing what it looks like in an athletic environment. I was able to see that, and say, ‘OK, this is why I like nutrition. This is what’s important to me.”’
For most of her junior and senior years at Alabama, where she got an undergrad degree in human environmental science, J-Buzz commuted from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham three days a week to do 1,200 clinical hours in hospitals, nursing homes and VA clinics to become a registered dietitian.
“You have to do an accredited internship to become a (registered dietitian), and a lot of schools do it where you get into the master’s and internship program together,” she said. “Luckily, Alabama had an undergrad program, so I was able to knock that out, which then led me to be able to become a dietitian before my master’s.”
A sense of adventure rooted in family vacations, where they would mountain bike or hike in national parks or go skiing and snowboarding, led Buzzard to take a graduate assistant position at Utah State University. This time, it was a 27-hour drive from Tuscaloosa to Logan, Utah, two time zones away and a completely different world.
“I just wanted to go somewhere new,” she said. “I don’t know where I’m going to end up, but I love the mountains and I’d love to live there for a couple years of my life. I could get my master’s in nutrition sciences. And my major professor that I would do my thesis research under, she already had a game plan, because she was really into sports nutrition. It just kind of all fell into place.”
With the entrance to the mountain pass less than a mile from her apartment in Logan, J-Buzz did trail running through the mountains pretty much every day. “I didn’t know how long I was going to be there, but I was definitely going to take advantage of all the personal adventure stuff I like to do,” she said.
Her thesis project involved a fuel station labeling system, Buzzard said, “trying to get our athletes to acknowledge what the best pre-workout, post-workout and just general food is to eat, based on labels.”
“We used that to figure out what their choices were, and then we implemented the labeling system,” she said. “Then, we had them take surveys on the back end, maybe a month later, to see if we elicited any behavior change.”
Calling Baylor a “perfect fit,” Buzzard took a job as assistant director of sports nutrition in July 2018 and joined an established sports science program that had a “lot of institutional and athletic support.”
She worked with 10 Olympic sports for a little over a year and then added football in the fall of 2019, when the Bears finished 11-3 and went to the Sugar Bowl.
“Then, COVID hit, and it’s just been a whirlwind ever since,” she said.
Promoted to her current position as Director of Performance Nutrition in March 2020, her job was drastically changed shortly afterward when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down college athletics for the remainder of the spring semester.
“As dietitians, we do clinical, we do education, we do assignments and testing,” she said, “but the first thing you think of in the collegiate setting is taking care of our athletes from a nutrition and food service standpoint.”
For the student-athletes who remained in town, the issue was trying to get food to them, Buzzard said, “because the dining hall is closed and they don’t really grocery shop.”
“That’s when we started doing the snack-bag drive-throughs where we would (COVID) test everyone and get their orders,” she said. “We started doing that weekly when everything was shut down. Then, we started sending out care packages with protein powder and supplements to the ones who weren’t here. That got us through April and May, and we were calling people that we needed to check up on.”
As student-athletes returned to campus and went through COVID isolation, Buzzard’s team prepared care packages with pots and pans, cleaning items, paper products and groceries.
“It kept evolving and getting further and further, depending on what the landscape was,” she said. “From the food service standpoint, we had to work with all of our caterers and really pivot to what we provided. Where we used to do buffets and self-serve, now everything was boxed and packaged in a certain way.”
In February, J-Buzz met another challenge head-on when the school closed for a week because of a once-in-a-generation snowstorm in Waco that caused power outages and water-line breaks. Growing up in Northern Illinois, this was nothing new to her.
“I grew up driving in the snow, I lived in the mountains and I have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle,” she said. “I felt like I was constantly running around. There was a time where I was just clearing the shelves at H-E-B with Hot Pockets, hot pies . . . maybe not the healthiest food, but we just needed calories for people who didn’t have resources.”
Using the nutrition staff, student workers and athletics administration, including Director of Athletics Mack Rhoades and Deputy AD Dawn Rogers, they cleared out the freezers at the BANC and packaged deli meet, cheese, bread and snacks to “make sure that people had food that maybe they didn’t have at home.”
“It was impressive, but we survived,” J-Buzz said. “And then, of course, that Saturday it was like 70 degrees. You can’t even believe what had just happened. It was crazy.”
The food service changes actually helped prepare Buzzard for her wedding in Waco next Saturday, June 12.
“Just the way we had to serve food on the road and here at the (Waco Convention Center), we did plated meals and had seating charts. I had place cards for all the players,” she said. “I was always joking, ‘I’m pretty much planning a wedding every weekend.’ So, I think it’s going to go OK.”
Julie Anna met her fiancée, Andre Morard, a remote sales consultant with Moxie Solar, when they were both undergrads at Alabama. Originally from a hockey hotbed in the Chicago area, “where everyone plays hockey,” she found a hockey player in Alabama, “which is a pretty rare breed.”
During the February blizzard, they snowboarded down a steep road in a Woodway neighborhood and found a frozen pond that “I was able to skate on with some friends and play ice hockey in Texas,” she said.
While they don’t have any immediate plans this summer, the couple has “lofty dreams” of going on a delayed honeymoon after the 2021 football season.
“We want to go on a big ski trip, maybe Europe. Which is pretty on-brand for us,” she said.
J-Buzz, who turns 26 in August, said she has personal goals “for what I want our department to look like and how we can grow nutrition and be better dietitians for all of our teams.”
“We saw early on that she was somebody we needed to keep,” Boyd said. “She quickly earned the opportunity to oversee this area for our athletic department with her knowledge and how she cares for our student-athletes.”