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From Blazing Sands to Snowy Mountains
Growing up in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, Rosina Machu's path to the Gem State ran through war, illness and uncertainty
Published: 10/29/2020 10:18:52 AM

Over the course of five years, Rosina’s Machu’s childhood molded to the world around her. 

As a young toddler, Machu wasn’t hyper-aware of the war rocking her home country of Ethiopia. She wasn’t involved in the border conflict leaving thousands dead, injured or stranded as Eritrea and Ethiopia waged battle against each other. 

She was just a kid. All she knew were the mud houses, thatched roofs and blazing sands too hot to step on with her bare feet. 

In fact, much of the chaos didn’t reach Machu or her family in the refugee camp of Shimbela, where she spent some of her most formative years. Machu said most of her childhood wasn't filled with the chaos and suffering that many associated with the early 2000s’ border conflict. 

But just 15 miles outside Shimbela, communities were destroyed in a geographical struggle. Both countries were seeking ownership over the border town of Badme. According to the BBC, no valuable natural resources sparked the years-long war in 1998. It was simply a matter of who owned what, a struggle between rivalring cultures.  

While the war officially ended in 2000, Machu and her family continued to live in Shimbela until 2007. Border skirmishes continued for years as talks and negotiations between the two countries continuously broke down, were revitalized and broke down again.

Machu faced her own fair share of adversity from a young age. At just two years old, she was diagnosed with malaria, a virus carried by mosquitoes. The malaria ravaged her young immune system, and for nearly a year, Machu visited countless doctors to help her fight the sickness. 

The treatments ranged from mild to extreme, with one doctor forcing their fingers down Machu’s throat, forcing her to vomit in a hope to eject any toxins. From that moment on, Machu said she felt incredibly ill for months. 

“I spent a lot of time inside, in bed, not doing much,” she said. “I just remember that day just constantly throwing up. I remember feeling really bad, and was bed ridden for a really long time.”

Once overcoming the virus, Machu entered school as a self-described “trouble maker.” There wasn’t a moment she or her cousin Nana weren’t looking for adventure, whether it be sneaking into the local theater at night, swiping snacks from her father’s shop or harassing their grandmother. 

And when it came to sports, Machu said she couldn’t care less. There were hardly the opportunities for extra curriculars she now enjoys in the Treasure Valley. And besides, she was having too much fun wreaking as much havoc a kid her age could at the time. 

“I was one of those wild kids,” she said. “I didn’t do much at school, I was just there for my friends.”

Taking care of Machu, coupled with the recent birth of another daughter, proved to be an incredibly challenging time for her mother, Machu said. And once Machu’s mother became pregnant with her third child, she said her family knew it was time to make a change. 

So in 2007, the Machus finally left the refugee camp they had called home and embarked on a journey from arid Ethiopia to America, landing in frigid Pennsylvania in the dead of winter. 

Their time on the East Coast didn’t last long. A family friend from Shimbela who had also moved to the states had landed in the Gem State. Her family soon followed, and Machu’s love of competition quickly blossomed. 

“As a young kid, I was never active,” Machu said. “I just played around with the other kids, but I wasn’t into sports. My dad even tried to get me to play soccer. He was a big fan of the sport, so he would take me to soccer games, make me watch soccer on TV. He would try to get me into it, but I just wasn’t up for it.”

Machu couldn’t quite describe what it was about soccer that failed to spark her interest, giving her a laissez-faire attitude about sports in general during her early years. But one day in third-grade P.E. quickly changed that. 

“When we did the mile run in P.E., I went out there and just ran the whole thing,” she said. “My P.E. teacher came up to me and said, ‘When you’re in the fifth or sixth grade, you’re going to try out for the track team.”'

Machu said she quickly fell in love with not only running, but the freedom and independence it provided. 

“It’s a team sport and an individual sport,” she said. “You can pull yourself away from your teammates and set your own goals.”

And for years, Machu enjoyed that freedom, eventually finding her way onto the Boise High School girls cross country team. Machu managed a top-10 state championship finish in her first three years with the program, placing third, fifth and sixth as a freshman, sophomore and junior, respectively. In her latest two seasons, her efforts helped elevate the Brave to back-to-back state titles in 2018 and 2019, the team’s first championship since 2011 and ninth overall. 

“I’ve had an amazing four years with the team and the staff. My team, they make everything better,” Machu said. “Being in a group where people know what they’re doing, where you can be serious but also have fun, has been great for me.”

But the freedom of competition she had enjoyed for so long was nearly stripped away. Machu, along with the rest of Idaho’s fall athletes, thought a 2020 season, her last at Boise, wouldn’t happen. After COVID-19 canceled spring sports in the state, the outlook seemed grim heading into the late summer months as cases steadily rose. 

“After cases started going up and sports were still canceled, I started losing motivation. I didn’t know if we were going to have this last season,” she said. “Summer training started, and we were able to meet up with my team and have the hope we could have a season again.”

The rest is history. After a delayed start, the Treasure Valley was given the green light to compete, and Boise once again found itself in the midst of a successful run at the title.

Machu will have the chance to help her team secure a third-straight title Friday in Pocatello. The 2020 state championships were initially scheduled to take place at Eagle Island State Park, but COVID-19 restrictions moved the venue to East Idaho, where 2018’s championships were also held. 

“It was a shock,” Machu said of the last-minute changes. “Eagle Island is a course I know like the back of my hand. The weather (in 2018) was pretty tough. I know what I need to do to better prepare myself.”

Late-October and November running can be brutal, Machu said, as she awaits the mid-fall championships. Her coldest meet ever, NXR Northwest at Eagle Island, nearly did her in. 

“I could not see, my eyes were glossy from unshed tears from the cold. My feet were burning up, because I had to layer with socks to keep them warm,” she said. “After the race, my feet felt like they were on fire, and I thought to myself, ‘I hope I never have to run in this weather again.’ It was the worst racing experience I’ve ever had.”

After state, where Boise has a legitimate shot at a championship, she will turn her eye to spring track season, and eventually collegiate opportunities, with Gonzaga and San Francisco University as promising options. 

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