Farha Shariff takes life by the handlebars at YEG Cycle

If you’ve had the pleasure of working with Farha Shariff (BEd ’99, PhD ‘12) or being a student in one of her classes in the Faculty of Education, you know that this dynamic educator isn’t one to slow down.

Raised by educators— her mom is a University of Alberta Education grad—Shariff sees education as less of a career path and more of a way of life. With a philosophy built on elevating the people around her, Shariff is nothing short of motivational, in and out of the classroom.

“It’s one thing to be a leader,” she says, “but a true leader sets up other leaders around them.”

Taking on new challenges

After finishing high school in St. Albert, Alta., Shariff followed in her parents’ footsteps and received her bachelor of education degree (elementary education) from UAlberta. That was followed by a move to Toronto, where she got her master’s degree in equity education from York University.

Initially, Shariff taught elementary students, but after moving back to Alberta in 2002 she worked with junior high students. Not ready to stop being a student herself, she came back to UAlberta to pursue a PhD in Secondary Education, where her doctoral research examined cultural identities among second generation South Asian Canadian youth and the intersection of identity politics, reading and viewing experiences.

While writing her dissertation, Shariff felt as if her plate might be a little too full. Over the course of her studies, her family had grown from one to three children. She was a full-time mom and wife and a full-time graduate student.

How did she respond to her demanding lifestyle? By adding another hat, of course.

“I come up with a challenge for myself, and then I one-up myself,” she explains.

While balancing dissertation writing, career and family, Shariff wondered how she was going to persevere. But her doubts were replaced with motivation when acquaintances said things like, “How do you do it?” or, “Oh, don’t worry. You’ll get there.”

Those comments gave Shariff the fuel she needed to persevere.

“As women, we have to powerfully declare—instead of ask—that this is what I’m going to do,” she says.

Finding balance on the bike

Farha Shariff
Even a multitasker like Shariff has to put her cycling shoes on one foot at a time. SUPPLIED.

While completing her graduate research, Shariff became invested in spin classes and decided to become a certified instructor. What some might see as too high-intensity—biking like mad for 50 minutes on a fixed spin bike to Jay-Z and Beyoncé—was her meditation, her time to release and reset.

Using spin as a tool to find clarity, and ultimately “save [her] mental health from near breakdown,” Shariff successfully finished her dissertation and became an adjunct assistant professor in Secondary Education. With a clearer mind and some room in her schedule again, Shariff started to crave another challenge.

So, she reinvented herself.

Shariff discovered a spin studio in Calgary that complimented her philosophy of teaching—to elevate and uplift others. In the fall of 2015, she entered the world of entrepreneurship as co-owner of the spin studio’s new Edmonton location, YEG Cycle.

“I love collaborating. Part of being a teacher is collaborating, and so what better way to continue that than entering into a partnership?” she says.

From PhD to YEG Cycle

YEG Cycle has been open since January 2016. Located on Edmonton’s popular Whyte Avenue, it has quickly become a hub for motivational fitness.

Shariff believes her time spent teaching social studies education at UAlberta primed her for life as a business owner and studio operator.

“Social studies education is about multiple perspectives and [having the ability] to identify with someone’s experience,” she says. Given the topic of her doctoral dissertation, Shariff is sensitive to terms like empathy and empowerment and the importance of uplifting others.

YEG Cycle is an educator’s dream classroom in terms of building positivity and self-esteem.

Shariff handpicked the studio instructors and explains that employee titles and spinner slang are deliberately empowering: the teachers are called “motivators”, and spinners refers to themselves as “the biker gang”, inspiring a supportive pack-like mentality. The “motivators” are trained in a curriculum, developed by YEG Cycle partner Andrew Obrecht, that Shariff helped mold with her expertise, but they are encouraged to teach in their own way, with their own music and their own vibes.

Describing the culture of the spin studio, Shariff says, “It’s not actually about the spin class. It’s about helping people achieve their best potential, which is no different than what we do with students every day.”

The way Shariff sees it, YEG Cycle is “in the business of community betterment–happiness. Spin just happens to be a byproduct.”

April 7, 2016 is World Health Day, which celebrates the founding in 1948 of the World Health Organization. This year, WHO is marking World Health Day by issuing a call for global action to step up prevention and treatment of diabetes. According to WHO, “Being physically active – through at least 30 minutes of regular, moderate-intensity activity on most days – can help prevent Type 2 diabetes and its complications, as well as help people to better manage Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes if they have it.” Download World Health Day posters.

Feature image: UAlberta Education alum Farha Shariff (right) hands out high fives at YEG Cycle, the spin studio which she co-owns. SUPPLIED.