Shaady has been swimming ever since she was a little girl. She would always go to the pool with her grandmother and mom, and swimming quickly became a favorite thing to do with her family. She swam on swim teams while growing up, in high school, and on her college club team, along with every day during the summers.
Challenges and Triumphs
Shaady was a sixth-grade teacher in the Fairfax County public school system when she got into a traumatic car accident that left her immobile for months. Wheelchair bound and now missing 70 percent of her quadriceps, Shaady decided to dedicate her life to physical activity and recovery.
Soon after learning how to walk again, she was biking thirty to forty miles every day. Combining her love of biking with her passion for DC itself, she left the classroom and founded Discover DC Tours, a pedicab tour company that offers tours of the DC monuments and memorials, wine tours, DC trivia, and more. (For the full story, check out this video interview with Shaady by the Washington Post.)
Her physical struggles continued, though. After tearing her ACL and breaking her back twice, rehabilitation brought her back to one of her original loves: swimming.
“At that point, really the only thing left to do was swimming, and it just cracked the code for my body,” says Shaady. “I saw I could still be happy and still make a living. I could still move and feel good after all the physical pain I’d been through. That was so empowering. I knew I couldn’t do this or that, but I could do this one thing really well, and that was amazing.”
For Shaady, swimming became much more than her physical rehabilitation. It provided solace, rejuvenation, and hope.
“Swimming has been the most consistent thing in my life,” says Shaady. “It’s been mental and physical therapy for my brain, for my body, for my soul, for my happiness. For me, swimming has been a life-saver. It’s like a best friend.”
Turning Passion into a New Career Path
Although Shaady had been unofficially teaching swimming her entire life, she began formally teaching swim lessons at WeAquatics in October 2019. Tending to work with the younger students, Shaady brings a unique brand of fun, trustworthiness, and inspiration.
“In and out of the pool, I tend to be more animated. I play games with the kids. When students need to struggle, I let them struggle, but first and foremost I want them to really enjoy it,” says Shaady. “When teaching young kids, building trust is the first thing that needs to be done. When kids trust you, they know they’ll be safe. Maybe we pretend we’re certain types of animals, and that distracts them from their fear, but they also know I’m there and I’m not going to let them go. When you’ve gained the trust of a kid, it’s a beautiful process.”
Some of the students Shaady has worked with at WeAquatics have faced their own challenges, from receiving liver transplants to being born premature. Given her own physical struggles, these are the students she finds herself gravitating toward.
“I’ve learned you can either be faced with a challenge and work so much harder and become resilient, or you can give up,” says Shaady. “When those kids never give up, when they have that perseverance, that’s golden. I love working with all types of kids, but when I see kids that need extra help, those are the ones that I think, OK. I was in your situation. Don’t ever give up. You can do anything.”
Shaady anxiously awaits getting back into the water and resuming what gives her so much purpose.
“I cannot wait to start teaching swimming again. It’s everything I think about. I just can’t wait to get in that water,” says Shaady. “The water is so good for my body, and it makes me so happy. Then teaching kids, giving them confidence, watching them do something they didn’t know they had the power to do, that makes me feel like I’m doing what I was meant to do.”
A Life Dedicated to Teaching
In everything Shaady does, in and out of the pool, she seeks to be a teacher. From the traditional classroom setting to the pool to her work with multiple nonprofits, Shaady is an educator at her core.
She is the president of the Washington, DC, chapter of Guitars not Guns, a nonprofit music program that provides free guitars and guitar lessons to at-risk youth. This program offers music as an alternative to violence. (Anyone interested can make donations through the organization’s home page.)
From an Iranian background herself, Shaady’s work with Children of Persia, a nonprofit built on a sustainable model of helping underprivileged Iranian children, is particularly personal and satisfying. (Anyone interested in learning more can check out their website or donate directly here.)
Shaady also teaches jewelry-making classes, paints murals inspired by DC, was the music director of a Farsi school, teaches guitar and violin, and loves all things creative.
Learning to Take Chances
When Shaady’s brother asked her to donate to his cause, Bike to the Beach, a one hundred-mile bike ride to raise funds for autism awareness, she didn’t realize what a life-changing moment it would be. Rather than donating, she went onto the website and decided to join the ride.
“The ride was going to be the next day at four a.m. I didn’t have the best bike. I didn’t have the best kind of shoes. I didn’t usually do more than twenty-five miles in a day, but I thought, I’m going to do this,” says Shaady. “At mile seventy-three, I wondered what I was thinking, but I pushed myself, and I finished. I finished dead last, but I finished!
“This really gave me the confidence to do other things. Even finishing last, I developed a stronger sense of self and will. I learned to never give up and to keep working, and I’ve taken that lesson into all the different things I do, including teaching at the pool.”