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Johnson center feature

Students working out on the main floor of Johnson Gym on May 11, 2023.

Staff at Johnson Center emphasizes community

Johnson Center Aquatics at the University of New Mexico is available to all incoming freshmen free of charge, according to Marcus Blackwell — the 62-year-old lifeguard and instructor at Johnson Center. However, there are some classes and resources that require an extra fee.

“I teach group fitness and I try to get them to have fun and have a social interaction. When I left the last day of my step class, a girl came up and said, ‘It's too sad. This isn't even like a class. It's like a bunch of friends just getting together to work out,’” Blackwell said. 

After he quit his job as a pharmacist at Walgreens, Blackwell said he returned to UNM after about nine years. He initially started in 2003 when his sister, who was teaching the aerobics class, wanted a break, so he decided to apply for the position.

“I had to memorize a cool kickboxing video, and I didn't go to sleep that whole night. I taught a class … and they cheered. I thought, ‘I'm king of the world.’ This is the best job in the world. I get to exercise and teach this class,” Blackwell said.

A UNM alumni, Blackwell majored in pre-pharmacy but is more passionate about coaching and providing resources for the community at Johnson Center. He said that caring for the swimmers is the most important part of his job.

“I just thought, 'Wow, that's why I'm here — to take care of these swimmers.' So if I see anything, like if a little kid is even hinting at going under, I'm going in,” Blackwell said.

Brooks Stamper, a senior at UNM, has been a front office supervisor and representative of the Johnson Center since his freshman year.

Stamper said his day-to-day consists of renting lockers, selling passes, answering phones and directing people to the resources within Johnson Center. In addition to providing a free place for students to work out, Stamper said that the gym often gives students a community. 

“Especially our regulars, there's definitely a community that forms … they're always talking to the gym attendants … it gets everyone involved and makes them all feel like they are not just coming here to work out, but they're coming here to spend time with the people that they are close to as well,” Stamper said.

The Aquatics Center offers many resources for students. Blackwell said that open swim is available for all members of the UNM community. 

“We have these awesome services. We have swim lessons from the very beginning (level) for adults that have never been able to swim before. We have little bitty kids that we teach,” Blackwell said. “We recently had the guppy races where the little kids came in (and learned) a back float. And that was super fun.” 

The Johnson Center also offers workout classes for students. Blackwell said that he has committed years to creating classes that are as engaging as possible.

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“It's all about the music in my opinion, too. You can't have some Michael Jackson remix. Class will suck … I spend years finding the very best music that gives me chills. For Step (Aerobics), it has to be on the beat. It has to be 130 beats per minute for the entire hour,” Blackwell said.

This summer, Blackwell said he is working to get more students to lifeguard while continuing to curate classes and opportunities for students. Blackwell said that he plans to stay at the Johnson Center for the long term.  

“I'll never go back. I'm a coach. My good friends are like, ‘Dude, you're not a pharmacist. You're a coach,” Blackwell said. 

Addison Key is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @addisonkey11 

Addison Key

Addison Key is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo and served as the Summer 2023 culture editor. She can be reached on Twitter @addisonkey11. 

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