From San Diego, CA, Semret Russom, an Eritrean athlete, is doing wanders in a sport not well known in Eritrea. Behind Semret’s soft smile there is a tough woman who works out for hours, seven days a week, follows a strict diet and gulps down tons of water to maintain a well-defined body which has gotten her several awards and wide attention in fitness modelling.
Semret Russom was born in Eritrea and left for America with her siblings at a young age. As plans didn’t go well for her father, who was unable to raise her and her siblings, Semret was raised by an American family that she truly loves. The star athlete of a demanding sport is known for being adamant no matter what. Prior to her breakthrough in fitness modeling, Semret successfully run a business of her own.
Having stayed very close to her Eritrean heritage and family in Eritrea, Semret, is well aware of her country’s rich history and cultural uniqueness towards which she shows great respect and adoration. Her biggest dream is to inspire women to always be strong.
- -It is so interesting that you found success in fitness modelling late in your life. Can you please tell me something about it?
I basically started body building late; almost six years ago. My love for fitness drove me to make a career out of my lifestyle. I have a lot of male friends in America and at the gym one of them suggested that I go watch a show of fitness modelling. Right then, though I wasn’t confident, I saw myself doing the same. From what we see outside, body building is all about big muscles. And so I thought that as a woman it would be a tough sport. But when I started the sport, I realized body building is about discipline.
- -Body building or fitness modelling is a sport that is unknown in our culture, especially amongst women. Can you explain what it is?
It is a sport that requires strong muscles and a little body fat. You have to eat the right amount of food multiple times a day, stay extremely dehydrated and follow strict hours of working out that normally include cardio and heavy-lifting. The aim is to change the body composition.
- -What about the competitions? Where do you show off your big, well defined muscles?
In America it is a common sport. There are big shows for this specific type of sport. They are called ‘fitness modelling shows’. I have done three national shows so far in the USA. Fitness modelling is a field of heightened competition between the athletes. The chances of making it in the top two is tight. In the last show in which I took part there were 1500 contestants. And they are from all over Europe, Canada, Mexico and the United States. The arenas in which such competitions are held are big and there are normally twelve judges.
- -Let’s go back to your childhood. What are your memories from before you left Eritrea?
I actually remember a whole lot. I was born in 1980 in a small village, Adi Gawul. It is located outside of Mendefera. My two older sisters and I were raised by my mother, a wonderful and strong Eritrean woman, Letesilasie Ghide. I remember I had a lot of love growing up in my village. By the time I was born my father had already joined the movement for Independence. After the front’s reform to be the Eritrean People’s Front for Liberation my father came back to us for a short time and took me and my siblings to Ethiopia for better education. At that time I remember Independence was on the horizon, and those were hopeful times but also sad and devastating because as the Independence approached mass brutality were also growing. The journey from Ethiopia to America was long and complicated but we had finally made it to the US when my father felt unable to raise us and so my sister and I were adopted by a wonderful, wonderful person, my adoptive mother, Betty Ball.
- -Is it safe to say that the war was the reason behind your family’s separation?
You can say that. That time was hard for everyone. Families were broken, people were dying and villages were being bombarded. It was horrible. Now, it is so pleasing to see our country and our people being Independent and striving for growth and development. Our people’s resilience is so unique, so inspiring, reassuring and praiseworthy.
- -So what was it like to grow up in unfamiliar place away from your mother and everything you knew as a child?
It was hard. So hard. But I was lucky to have my adoptive family. I had good education and I was raised well but I really wanted to keep in touch with my Eritrean side even if it was difficult. I didn’t have any Eritrean friends in the place I grew up in except one that kept reminding me of my identity. So when I grew up I had to keep coming back to Eritrea and each time learn something new of my culture, history and identity. I never lost touch with my mother and that helped me trace back and treasure my Eritrean identity.
- -What does being Eritrean mean to you?
Everything. I was born in Eritrea and I was happy. I love my mother and she is a constant reminder of how strong I need to be in my career and my life as a woman. I am proud of our history and my country. Every time I come I feel rich in knowledge because I learn a lot. In return I want to share my experience and empower Eritrean women to be strong with their visions and to be healthy. To be Eritrean is truly something I deeply cherish because to be Eritrean means to belong to a place where you don’t have to explain who you are.
- -What message do you have for women and young girls who think it’s late to dream after a certain age?
I believe that women should be strong enough to tell themselves that it is never too late to start whatever it is that they want to achieve. They should be courageous to work hard for their goals despite challenges that they might face on the way. They need to be happy with how they look and they need to feel healthy at all times. What happens often is that with their job and their family that they take care of they often forget about themselves. They don’t lead a healthy life style and they end up hating how they look.
That leads to depression, self-hatred and a feeling of being not beautiful, strong or good enough. Such cases lead often times, at least from what I know in America, to medicinal dependency. Which is horrible as it downsizes your life style, happiness and your life span. Every woman deserves to be happy and accepted. Therefore we all should be conscious of our lifestyle and pursue our dreams. That is why I like to open up about my life and hope to inspire women and young girls to look out after their bodies, health and happiness. It means so much.
- -Thank you for your time. Any ending notes?
One of my dreams and, well, you can say plans that I’d like to work on, is to spread knowledge of wellbeing and good health amongst Eritrean women here in Eritrea. I want to contribute to that end and open up about my story so that they too can see spending sometime on their fitness and be healthy. I really would like to open a fitness center and teach there.