Gift to Aztec Rec Center is a commitment to a fit future

Thom and Randi McKenzie create a special legacy for instructors at the newly refurbished center.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024
Thom and Randi McKenzie
Thom and Randi McKenzie have established a fund supporting the enhancement of physical education activities at the Aztec Recreation Center (ARC).

Thom and Randi McKenzie have been associated with San Diego State University for over four decades, advocating and embodying the benefits of wellness, health and fitness. Now, they are creating a legacy to ensure the values they espouse will always be emphasized at the university.

The McKenzies have established a fund supporting the enhancement of physical education activities at the Aztec Recreation Center (ARC). Their gift provides financial assistance for the professional development of SDSU’s ARC instructors in perpetuity. 

The Thomas and Randi McKenzie ARC Instructor Development Fund will support physical activity-related certification program fees; physical activity-related conference registration fees; and payments to consultants to conduct training or workshops. In gratitude for their gift and to honor their achievements, a multipurpose studio at the ARC will be named for the McKenzies.

Both Thom and Randi have taught, volunteered and supported various programs at SDSU and throughout the community since their 1980 arrival in San Diego. They have been ARC members since Associated Students (A.S.) of SDSU opened the facility in 1997. 

A.S. Associate Executive Director Mark Zakrzewski has known the couple since becoming ARC recreation director in 2013. “Thom and Randi have spent their careers promoting physical activity,” he said. “They have had a huge impact on students and we greatly appreciate their generosity.”

A two-phase expansion and renovation was completed in 2022 with an indoor track, additional multiuse courts and fitness studios, new climbing and bouldering walls, and expanded weight and cardio equipment to meet steadily evolving student needs. 45 instructors, who include many students, teach a variety of classes at the ARC ranging from weight training and self-defense, yoga, dance and cycling.

The McKenzies’ gift is significant, Zakrzewski said, because both recreation-class and for-credit class instructors need to keep up with a constantly evolving fitness industry. Out-of-pocket costs for continuing education credits, required certifications and important conferences can add up quickly.

“Thom and Randi’s fund will help retain employees certainly, and also expand their knowledge base,” Zakrzewski said. “It enhances the classes we’re offering and it just makes for a better experience for all of the participants.”

Research and opportunities

Thom McKenzie is internationally recognized as a co-founder of SPARK (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids), a collection of physical activity, nutrition, and teacher-training programs based on research he has conducted since the 1980s.  A professor emeritus of the SDSU School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences, his research has focused on areas including physical activity, obesity, physical education and recess policies, parks, playgrounds and recreation. He is a widely acknowledged authority in sports psychology, physical education, and physical activity promotion.

As a sports scientist, Thom traveled for 16 years with the USA Olympic Volleyball teams, providing support for both the men’s and women’s teams.  In 2012, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition, and in 2021 was named Honorary Lifetime President by the International Organization for Health, Sports, and Kinesiology, an organization that promotes high-quality research in those areas.

Randi decided to pursue physical education, health and psychology as a career, being inspired by her gym teacher in high school, where she took up fencing. In college she entered a tournament and upon finishing third, joined the fencing team and became its captain. 

“Fencing is very beautiful if it's done well, so I enjoyed what it looked like,” Randi said. “You only go forward and backward, but it's nasty also, because the goal is to hit somebody and not be hit.”

Randi pursued the sport beyond college and became the nation’s second-ranked women’s saber fencer in 1996. Randi was certified as a National Coach in Archery and Bowling and had the distinction of being the private archery instructor to Gov. Roberto de la Madrid of Baja California Norte. 

Preferring teaching to competition, she began to explore acting at SDSU and participated in the Children’s Touring Theatre. She was encouraged to explore the area of stage combat and was certified as an “Actor/Combatant” and taught for four seasons in the Old Globe Theatre’s MFA program. She still volunteers to teach sword fighting in SDSU’s School of Television, Theatre, and Film.

Across more than four decades of involvement at SDSU, Randi has held many positions in addition to teaching. She helped develop the Student-Faculty Mentoring Program and served as its director achieving national recognition with the Noel Levitz Retention Excellence Award. 

Shared values

Although she retired in 2016 as an assistant dean emerita for student affairs in the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts (PSFA), Randi remains active on campus in many ways, including her current volunteer work in the Office of Educational Opportunity Programs, Outreach and Success. “I feel very fortunate to have had lots of opportunities to keep growing and keep impacting students in different ways,” she said.

Through their fund supporting the ARC, the McKenzies will continue helping SDSU students for generations. “The ARC does what we value, which is to help the average kid become more fit,” Randi said.

“It seemed like a wonderful opportunity to help provide resources so that the teachers who teach there could teach better. It was important to us.”

The ARC gift follows decades of support from the McKenzies for other SDSU programs, including the Educational Opportunity Program SOAR Mentor Program, College of Health and Human Services, School of Theatre Television, and Film, the Courage Through Cancer Fund, ECRT and basic needs fund, the McKenzie Theatre Awards, and the SDSU Police Department. 

SDSU College of Health and Human Services Dean Steven Hooker is a former fitness instructor. He knew the McKenzies by reputation long before he knew them personally and describes the pair as “fun, humble, and passionate.” He said their ARC gift is an apt coda for their careers as they point their lifetime commitment toward the future.

“I could just see Thom and Randi being connected with this so perfectly,” Hooker said. “It just fits them to a T.” 

Unlike a direct scholarship, Hooker said the McKenzies’ fund improves the quality of instruction students receive by aiding their instructors. “I really like it because it resonates with me, personally,” the dean said.

“This really helps meet a need and I think the students who are recipients of this kind of opportunity will feel a greater connection to the university, and maybe they will also want to give back someday.”

To learn more about creating a legacy at SDSU, contact Associate Vice President, University Development, Mary Darling, [email protected], (619) 594-8299. 

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