Landing her perfect job
Putting her dream of working in sports on hold, Gibson landed a job that focused on nutrition marketing for a public relations company in Toronto. She was there less than a year when she learned that the Canadian sport center was hiring a sport dietician in advance of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
“All of a sudden this position came up and I think it was literally the only full-time sport dietician position in the country,” Gibson said. “It was a $15,000 pay cut from what I was making and I already was not making that much.
“But I basically spent every cent that I had to fly out there to interview because this was like my dream job. Everyone thought I was nuts because it was a huge pay cut, and Vancouver is one of the most expensive cities in Canada to live. It’s like the Palo Alto of Canada. But it was a full-time job, and this just didn’t come around. All of the dieticians in the country that were looking at these positions, [but] they didn’t even give it a chance because they were like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to work for peanuts.'”
Gibson was hired by the Canadian Sport Center Pacific in 2006 and spent the next five years working with her native country’s top amateur athletes in an array of sports, including snowboarding, skiing, curling, softball, tennis, soccer and Taekwondo. During that time she also earned a master’s degree in exercise science from the University of Victoria in British Columbia.
Gibson later moved south of the border in 2011 to become a senior sport dietician and applied physiologist with the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, working primarily with combat athletes. Though it’s common for Olympic organizations to hire individuals from other countries—it’s virtually the only avenue to find those with Olympic experience—Gibson joked that she had to explain to her family why she was “betraying her country.”
As part of her role with both the Canadian and United States Olympic organizations, Gibson traveled to countries such as Australia, Belarus, China, England, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey.
“My husband and I both love traveling the world—the more remote the better,” Gibson said. “Our honeymoon was in Malaysia and Thailand, camping and hiking. That’s what we love, so for me it was incredible to just have someone basically pay you to go to these countries.”
Although Gibson loved traveling to all ends of the earth, it began to wear on her and she sought a more grounded existence.
“It was wonderful, but I was away probably 200 days a year, living out of a suitcase, missing everything, never home,” she said. “It just got to a point where I was exhausted and tired and looking for something different, but [I] didn’t really know where it was going to end up.”
Pace came calling
The NFL wasn’t even on Gibson’s radar when she received a phone call in 2013 from Bears general manager Ryan Pace, who was then the New Orleans Saints’ director of player personnel. Pace, who was competing in Ironman competitions himself, wanted to tap into Gibson’s knowledge of nutrition.
“At that point in time, NFL teams weren’t really pushing the envelope in regards to nutrition,” Pace said. “Other sports around the globe were further ahead in that area. Every team is always looking for that edge, and this was an area I thought we could take advantage of. Nutrition has always been something I have a personal interest in, so it was exciting for me to explore what we could do.
“[Saints general manager] Mickey Loomis and [coach] Sean Payton were also very committed to this effort, so together we took this challenge on. In the research I was doing, Jenn’s name kept coming up. I liked that she had worked in all different sports, but specifically combat sports. She’d traveled the globe working in harsh conditions. She worked under pressure and in unique environments, such as trying to get wrestlers to cut weight in Uzbekistan.”
Gibson agreed to fly to New Orleans to give a presentation to the Saints. She also went out for dinner with Pace, Loomis and Payton. “The original plan was to talk to her about how we could get our sports science and nutrition program to another level with the Saints,” Pace said. “Just brainstorm with her and get some ideas. But halfway through dinner we all knew we needed to hire her.”
Reluctant to leave her full-time position and move away from Colorado Springs, Gibson spent two years as a consultant with the Saints, working remotely but also making regular visits to New Orleans for 4-5 days every 3-4 weeks.