John Shade got his start in swimming at age eight with the Monocacy Aquatic Club. By the end of his high school years at Walkersville High School, he had won seven of eight individual county championships and was undefeated in the 50 Freestyle. Earning a four-year swimming scholarship to La Salle University, he medaled in all of the Metro Atlantic Conference and National Catholic Championships in which he competed. He swam on conference record-setting relays and was named to the All-Conference Academic Swimming Team. In 1986, he was recognized by Swimming World Magazine as the sixteenth fastest 50-meter swimmer in the U.S.A. As a teen, he set numerous Maryland state age group records.