Most days, Nadia Azizabadi spends more of her waking hours in the water than out of it.
- Nadia Azizabadi spent three years teaching herself to swim
- She now teaches other migrants to swim and hopes to become a scuba diving instructor
- Nadia also plays underwater hockey and underwater rugby
But until a decade ago, the 36-year-old didn’t know how to swim.
Born and raised in Tehran, the landlocked capital of Iran, Nadia said the closest she ever got to a childhood swim was a trip to the Caspian Sea.
“The beaches over there are separated for men and women so my dad told me if we wanted to go and swim we had to be separated,” she said.
“As a kid, I didn’t want to separate from my parent so I said, ‘No, thank you’.”
On her way to Australia, Nadia tried scuba diving in Malaysia.
Drawn to the water when she arrived in Tasmania in 2014, she tagged along on a trip to the pool.
It was a practice session in underwater hockey.
Fixated, Nadia looked for help — but said there was nothing available in Tasmania.
“Water sport is part of your culture. All the kids here are growing up with water so telling my friends ‘I cannot do this’ … they did not know how to teach me,” she said.
Nadia spent the next three years teaching herself how to swim by watching people underwater at the pool and on YouTube.
After that, she decided to fill the void and teach other adult migrants and refugees how to swim, starting the From Zero to Hero program in 2017.
“I understand when they are saying they are embarrassed that someone is laughing at them that they can’t go under,” she said of her students.
‘It can be daunting when you’re the only one who doesn’t swim’
Ensieh Izadi also came from Iran and said being unable to swim as an adult in Australia was isolating.
“I was quite embarrassed because compared to Australians, I knew nothing,” she said.
Before moving to Tasmania, Varun Khetarpal lived in Delhi.
“Everyone here pretty much knows how to swim so it can be a bit daunting when you’re the only one who doesn’t,” he said.
He joined Nadia’s class so he could swim with his daughter.
“I want to get in the pool with her, into deeper waters and I thought it was important to get better skills,” he said.
Nadia said many of her students learned to swim so they could rescue their children should the need arise.
Nowadays, Nadia’s schedule is awash with aquatic activity, working full-time for the Tasmanian Dive Group, conducting scuba rescue courses and participating in recreational dives and river clean-ups.
As for underwater hockey — she now plays for the state team.
She was one of only two women selected in the national masters underwater rugby side and dedicates four nights a week to training in both sports.
“She’s tiny but very tenacious,” said head coach for Underwater Rugby Tasmania Steve Kilpatrick.
To soak up any leftover time, Nadia will swim an extra 20 kilometres this month for ReachOut Australia’s Laps for Life fundraiser.
And there is no downtime in sight — she is one of Tasmania’s only female Persian translators, has just got her boat licence and hopes to soon become a scuba diving instructor.