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Meet Rosina Machu: Ethiopian Refugee, Idaho Track Phenom And New Boise High Graduate

Rosina Machu and Boise High teammates
Michael Najera, Boise High School
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Courtesy of Michael Najera
Rosina Machu and her Boise High track teammates

Rosina Machu may be the most inspirational story of Idaho’s 2021 graduation season. She barely survived Malaria at the age of 2 and spent much of her childhood in a refugee camp in the shadow of war-torn Ethiopia. She and her family were ultimately relocated to Idaho.

As she remembers it, she wasn’t overly interested in athletics, but a Boise elementary physical education teacher insisted that she run around a track with the rest of her class.

”And at the time I was like, ‘OK, you can't make me do sports. I don't want to do it.’ So I just said, ‘OK,’ and I started running and I enjoyed it," Machu said.

Indeed, she would go on to become one of Idaho’s best track athletes in recent memory.

As she prepares to say farewell to Boise High School, in preparation of attending Gonzaga University, Machu and her Boise High track coach Aaron Olswanger visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about her past and her impressive dreams for the future.

“It's amazing, she's so smooth, so strong just to see her progression over the last four years, it has been just remarkable.”
Aaron Olswanger

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Indeed, this is graduation season and there is much to celebrate in the class of 2021. And we're going to meet an exceptional high school graduate and hear a bit of her story. But first, let's say good morning to the track coach at Boise High School. He is Aaron Olswanger.

AARON OLSWANGER: Good morning. Thanks for having us on.

PRENTICE: Well, first of all, congratulations to you and making it through a school year unlike any other. Quite an achievement.

OLSWANGER: Thank you. It's been a challenging year,

PRENTICE: But you ended together: your students in class…in person.

OLSWANGER: Yeah, it was nice getting everybody together in the last nine weeks of the school year and it almost acted like we were functioning normally again.

PRENTICE: Coach, I'm going to ask you to do the honors and introduce us to a special guest short.

Rosina Machu and Aaron Olswanger
Boise High School, Aaron Olswanger
Rosina Machu and Boise High track coach Aaron Olswanger

OLSWANGER: This is Rosina Machu. She is, like you said, a senior graduating here. And she's been a cross country and track and field runner for us for the last four years, at Boise High, and has basically done everything under the sun and more… and she’s more than just a tremendous leader in our program and a great role model for our younger kids.

PRENTICE: Rosina. Good morning.

ROSINA MACHU: Good morning.

PRENTICE: It's my understanding that you spent some of your childhood in war-torn Ethiopia. What do you remember of those years?

MACHU: I actually remember quite a lot like up until we left in June of 2007. I believe… a lot of my memories I can remember are…since we were in a refugee camp in a war torn country, I did get sick a lot. I was very young. I had malaria. And it hit my younger sister, too. We both had malaria. It was very bad for us. And something I remember was when I was sick, at the time, my mom had to take me to the doctor to get me checked up. And I remember she had to stick a finger down my throat to make me throw up and get rid of any bad things in my body, just to make me feel better. I remember that. Whenever anyone asked me something about Ethiopia and I was there in the refugee camp, the one thing my mind goes to is that…something I will always remember.

PRENTICE: So my sense then would be that you are supersensitive to the importance of health and keeping fit, and how important it is not only for survival, but, well, to be a premium athlete, which you have become.

MACHU: Yeah. Being healthy and just taking care of your body and yourself is one of the big things to being an athlete and just being a healthy person overall. So, I try to take care of my health as best I can.

PRENTICE: Rosina… why do you run?

Rosina Machu
Michael Najera
Rosina Machu set a number of records through her years at Boise High School

MACHU: To be honest, growing up as a kid, I was never the most active or athletic kid. My dad would take me to soccer games because he's a big soccer fan. And he tried to get me into sports, especially soccer. But I was never interested. Everyone took me to the soccer games. I'd go run off and like the other kids, do anything other than watch the game. Even when we came to the United States, I wasn’t an active kid. I never joined any sports teams like my dad wanted me to. And how I got into running was in third grade when we ran the mile for the first time. I never did sports… never did running ever in my life. Our PE teacher took us outside to our giant field, made us run for laps, and I guess I had a really good time for a little third grader. He's said, “You know what, Rosina? When you're in fifth grade and you can start doing track and like sports, you are going to join the track team.” And at the time I was like, “OK, you can't make me do sports. I don't want to do it.” So I just said, “OK,” and I started running and I enjoyed it.

PRENTICE: Coach, what's it like to watch Rosina run?

OLSWANGER: Oh, it's amazing, she's so smooth, so strong just to see her progression over the last four years, it has been just remarkable. And I have so much confidence in my athletes and especially when I watch her run. Looking back to this past weekend at the state tournament…you just know she's going to do great things.

PRENTICE: You've probably lost count of how many personal bests and school bests and state bests… This is quite some athlete we're talking to here.

OLSWANGER: Yeah, she continues to improve, which is the remarkable thing. A lot of high school kids don’t… sometimes when they're younger. Rosina has been the opposite. She's gotten better every single year. And she ended with two of her lifetime bests at the state meet.

PRENTICE: Let's talk about college. You're heading to Gonzaga, I hear.

MACHU: Yeah, I am. I'm super excited to go up there and turn a new page in the book, inside a new chapter and make a lot of new friends and learn many more things.

PRENTICE: Are you the first in your family to go to college?

OLSWANGER: I'm the first kid in my family to go to college and hopefully my younger siblings will follow me and go to college as well.

PRENTICE: Great. What do you want to do someday?

MACHU: I wanted to be a doctor. But then I started watching some medical shows like Grey's Anatomy. You know what? Maybe not a doctor, like a surgeon…I'm not going to school for fifteen years. And then I got into law and criminal justice and I took a class here at Boise High School. And I really enjoyed it. And it opened up my eyes to criminal law and justice. So that's one of the things I want to maybe major in, along with social work or psychology. I took a class in psychology at Boise High. And I really enjoyed that as well.

PRENTICE: I feel like tossing her the keys right now. It sounds like the world will be better off.

OLSWANGER: Yeah, she'll have she'll have some tremendous opportunities at Gonzaga.

PRENTICE: Congratulations on graduation… on everything that you've done at Boise High and everything you are about to do at Gonzaga. We can't wait to read about all of your success there and hear about that. Coach, to you. Best of luck on another year, another season.

OLSWANGER: Thank you so much.

PRENTICE: Talk about class… the class of 2021.

MACHU: Thank you so much for this.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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