Unconditional

Love

For All

Welcome!  Since the Olympics in 1992, I have been on a great journey that has taken me all around the world, on tours, put me in front of cameras and in films,has given me a chance to write and make music, and has brought me back to my Self.  After all that has occurred it still feels as though I have just begun.  I thank you for joining me and I hope you enjoy some of the art, music and writing that you find in this site.  Together through Love and personal responsibility, we can and will heal this world.  :-)

Grace Breaks the Chains that Bind

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Grace: Breaking the Patterns that Bind

by Elizabeth Anna aka Betty Okino

Edited by Jacob Daniel

In the wake of Gabrielle Douglas' inspired Olympic gymnastics All-Around Victory, the prevalent conversation saturating the twittersphere was one revolving around the state of her hair. Thankfully, by the Grace of God, Gabby's purity and deep faith shielded her from a great deal of the ugliness, that was inherent within that conversation and that is often churned up by an event, such as this, that challenges the status quo.  When Barrack Obama was elected into office as the first "black" president of the United States, a whole lot of ugly started working its way to the surface.  This is understandable, as since the establishment of our nation by our forefathers, the elected leader of the free world was and always has been a caucasian man, not a woman, not a being of Asian decent, and certainly not a being of Latin or African descent.  Prior to that day, when Barrack Obama was sworn in to office, if one were to take a group of ten people from diverse backgrounds, say the words "President of the United States," and then ask them to choose an image reflecting the first thing that comes to mind, from a group of photos in front of them, the majority, myself included would most likely pick the image of a caucasian man, clean cut and perhaps in his fifties or so.  This was the habitual pattern, unconsciously formed, a program running in the back of our minds on auto pilot, until something happened to stop it.  In that moment, when the President of the United States was announced, and I saw a man on the television screen that looked completely different from any image of president I had ever seen, or imagined before, I actually felt my mind begin to rewire, reprogram, and open to a new idea.  I know that I wasn't the only one to have this experience.  For some people the transition from old habit, to new idea, isn't as jarring, depending largely on what their conditioning was as a child, and yet for others, this transition can be totally violating to their system, churning up hate-filled emotions, and misguided thoughts.


It is normal and far too common to react to hate with hate or to ugliness with ugliness, yet that does not growth, healing, or peace make.  A compassionate heart, allows us to see through the ugliness, realizing that within it, there is a misguided soul and wounded heart that is crying out for love.  Those that are the most difficult to love, really do need it the most.  When we silently bless, that which is hateful, and then give it no more power, it will dissipate. By blessing it, we send God forth into it, to do the Perfect work, and by giving the ugliness no attention, we withdraw power from the hate, and thereby no longer interfere with God's grace. Activities born of the "ego," such as hate, jealousy and separation, require a continued focus in order to have power, and be sustained.  When we send forth blessings, we allow Grace to act, and That is All Power and All Protection, and It is Self-Sustained. In other words, Grace can heal the wounds that for generations have dug so deep, and which have recently, through the social media, found their way to the surface.

When Gabby Douglas tumbled her way to the highest honor in gymnastics, becoming the first gymnast with dark skin to win the all-around gold medal, she broke the status quo in that arena, and it awakened some, who were previously asleep, from a terribly misguided dream.  

The beauty of all such events, is that in order to heal, grow and evolve, we must first realize there is something there to heal. Like drawing venom out from a wound, looking at that which was hidden, causes it to rise to the surface where it can be gently wiped away, allowing the wound to finally heal. Certain events jog people's logic, and rattle their habitual thought patterns, like a "black" president being elected to office, a "black" AA gymnast becoming the Olympic champion, or a short caucasian man beating The Bolt to be the fastest man alive.  While the latter didn't necessarily happen, it is often just such an event that may shake up an individual or group's original idea about something or someone. Often times, these type of events can bring up hate, criticism or prejudice that someone may not have realized was even there within them, thus giving them and the world around them the opportunity to heal and grow through the experience of recognizing something that requires changing and gently doing so.  May we all continue to heal, and create a world that is harmonious for all. ♥ :-)

Expand beyond what you think is possible. Stride!

Expansion

by Elizabeth Anna aka Betty Okino

Edited by Jacob Daniel


(Inspired by a wonderfully stated Facebook post by Michael Jacki, former president of USAG regarding the uniqueness of the different eras in gymnastics and the people that made up those eras, and the inherent folly in attempting to make one person or group "better" than another.) 

Like the bricks that form a building, no single brick, or layer of bricks is more important than another, every brick is necessary and serves a great and perfect purpose in being an individual part of the whole.  The building is Life, and in this case,"sport."  The athletes, coaches, spectators, families and events are the bricks.  In every era of sport, every athlete in that era, serves as an inspiration, raising the bar for the generations to follow.  Expansion is the natural order of things.  

Sir Roger Bannister, an English athlete, who ran the first mile under four minutes, achieved something in his time, that was thought by many, to be impossible.  It took Sir Roger to first see it, believe it and then do it, for the rest of the world to know that it could be done.  All of the achievement in athletics, that has come to pass since that day in May of 1954, when Roger ran that mile, can never diminish or erase his accomplishment that took  place on that day;  and so it is with all endeavors, within each passing season, every athlete, coach, official and fan helps to define and build that era, one more layer of bricks within an unending wall that travels forever upward and into the future.

There are generations of people who have, and continue to, inspire the generations both present and to come, who did something first or did something a little differently, and caused us to realize that something else was possible.

Indeed, the athletes of today, may swim faster, jump higher, fit in more tricks and demonstrate a higher degree of difficulty than the athletes of yesterday, yet the achievements of today would not be, were it not for the accomplishments of yesterday.  Slowly, layer by layer the walls are built and the structure is formed, each new layer becoming increasingly intricate, until one stands back, and takes in, the beauty of a robust history.  It is with the deepest gratitude that I give thanks for all of the dreamers, seers, believers and doers, who have gone before us, who continue to walk with us, and for those who have yet to come.    

There is no such thing as failure, the only failure that can exist, is the failure to recognize success.

The Celebration of the Precious Human Spirit not Precious Metals

by Elizabeth Anna aka Betty Okino

As the world watches the drama of the 2012 London Olympics unfold, I feel the heartache of those who fall short of their expectations, I feel the elation of those who exceed their expectations, and I feel the relief of those who meet the expectations of their countries and the media machines that depend on them for their survival.  In this world which we live, being remembered largely depends on how greatly we exceed what is expected of us or how we fail to live up to what is expected.  The process has become completely medal oriented, when the celebration of the Olympics was always intended to be about the pure exhibition of the human Spirit that it takes to even be demonstrating one's skill at this high level.


Jordyn Wieber won the hearts of many, and gained a new level of respect from me during the women's gymnastics team pre-lim, where, with enormous courage, dignity and grace, she composed herself in order to give the obligatory interview, just moments as after receiving the news that she would not be representing the US in the women's all-around finals.  The top two athletes from each team are given the opportunity to compete in the all-around finals, and Jordan ended up third amongst her peers.  My Husband turned to me and said, "It doesn't make sense to only take the top two from each team, what makes sense to take the top 24 scores over-all."   Indeed while the rules of gymnastics could use the application of common sense, the fact still remains, that regardless of whether the athlete places first or last, whether or not they are competing in the all-around or not, these athletes deserve to be celebrated at every turn on their Olympic journey.  We should celebrate the magnificence of sport and the triumph of human Spirit, regardless of place, finish or medal color, and in this way we can help lift them up rather than tear them down.

As Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps, and the rest of the men's 4 x 100 Freestyle team exited the pool after the final, the first question asked of them was how they felt about "failing," in this instance, the perceived failure by the member of the media interviewing was the failure to repeat the gold-medal performance of the Beijing games.  Each of those young men swam hard and fought valiantly, they all dreamt, trained and sacrificed for years before ever becoming Olympians, and in so doing, they should all be celebrated, regardless of final medal count or color.  In response to the question regarding how they felt about "failing," Phelps reminded the reporter, "Hey, we won the silver medal, and it feels good to be on that medal podium."  It will be a glorious day when the world media truly celebrates these Olympic athletes  whether they medal or not and whether they qualify for finals or not.  It will be wonderful when an athlete steps off the podium for an interview, or finishes a race and the focus is placed upon the victories of their Olympic performance, for in every experience there is the seed of victory, even in those events that the world about us may deem as failure.  

During the press conference after the women's team gymnastics finals in Barcelona in '92, the reporter said to me, "...so you didn't win the gold, you failed to repeat your silver medal performance  from the world championships, instead you had to settle for the bronze, how do you feel?"  It felt like rocks were dumped into my heart and that my heart was now dropping into my stomach.  I thought, "Thanks for projecting such failure at me for my performance, perhaps you would like to give me a nice paper cut and squeeze some lemon juice on it while your at it."  It felt as though these reporters were speaking for the whole country, as question after question held the same tone, regardless of who was asking it.  Somehow our medal winning performance was deemed a failure.  Indeed we had been aiming for gold, yet after a valiant effort, on the part of each of my teammates, what we received was bronze, and in truth the victory was in what we each had to overcome in order to be there.
 
Contending with one's own self is one thing, but not one athlete should be made to feel bad about their performance due to a media whose main objective seems to be focussing upon negativity.  Instead of focussing upon a "failure to win gold" why not focus upon the victory of having won a silver in an extremely tough field, or the victory of having simply earned a spot as an Olympian.  One might say, "The reality of the world is that negative things occur."  And while there is indeed much discord surrounding us in the world today, inherent within it is always the spark of something positive.  Let us break this addiction to focussing upon the negative.  Let us live free from perceived failure so that we might experience true success.  It may take a great effort indeed on the individual's part, to see the good, the victory in an otherwise frustrating event, yet to be sure Victory exists everywhere, within everything and everyone.  Within a single moment, everything can change, how it changes depends primarily upon what we choose to focus on.  

The last things an athlete deserves, is someone projecting failure at them through a line of questioning that is suggestive, judgmental  and leading. It is the law of life, that wherever there exists negative, positive must also be present.   What we focus upon is what we give power to.  I choose to give power to the glory and strength demonstrated by all of the athletes of this Olympiad.  I will celebrate and honor the triumph of human Spirit in each and every Olympian that is or ever has been.  

In ancient Greece, the Olympics began to be used as a political tool to assert dominance over other city-states.  It would appear that the modern Olympiad has carried on this tradition, using athletes as pawns in a game of political and national dominance where medal counts and types of medals are what is most important.  Let us come together as one world of beings, one race of beings celebrating the Spirit which allows us to achieve these remarkable feats as has been demonstrated by the athletes of the Olympic games.  

 We have the power to govern our thoughts and emotions.

Choosing to govern our thoughts and emotions is taking the highest responsibility possible.

A Broken Knee, A Broken Back & An Olympic Dream Realized

by Elizabeth Anna aka Betty Okino

I recently had the privilege of tuning into a sermon delivered by the pastor Joel Osteen.  In his sermon he quoted Galatians 6:9 which states, "Let us not get weary in doing well, for in due season we will reap, if we faint not."  In other words, before the victory, we always face our biggest challenges, wherein we are provided the "weariness test."  Our resilience is tested and we are given the opportunity to stand in faith, in the knowledge that so long as we do not give in, we shall prevail.  No great victory has or will ever be won without overcoming perceived obstacles.  It is at the point when we are closest to the victory, when we have been battling for months or years, holding in faith, for what seems like eons, that we begin to feel weary, like maybe we can't go any further, like we can't take another step.  It is at this point that our greatest opportunities come.  On the other side of those opportunities lies our greatest victories, if we but keep pressing on, keep believing and keep the faith. 


Six months before my dream of being an Olympian came to fruition, I tore a major tendon in my knee, which required surgery to re-attach the tendon back to the bone.  I thought, "At least it happened now and not right before the Olympics, I have time to get back into optimum performance shape."  When difficult situations such as this arise, we are never left without assistance, without what I like to think of as angels, overshadowing those around us in moments of great need, filling those closest to us with the faith and courage required to assist us toward victory, and in so doing lifting themselves as well.  Karolyi team trainer Leslie Spencer was that person, she was like an angel for me.  From the moment I came out of surgery, she along with my grandmother, was by my side.  My parents and the rest of my family lived in Elmhurst, Illinois and couldn't be there.  I arrived home on crutches with my leg bandaged and throbbing from the trauma of surgery, and as I lay on the couch with my leg elevated, still somewhat drowsy, Leslie said to me, "We'll your tendon is stronger now than before with the screw in it.  You can begin rehab immediately.  The only thing that can stop you from getting back into competitive form within weeks... is you."   In my Heart I knew this to be true; however, my head was trying to tell me, "There is no way you can start putting weight on it now, it's throbbing, and your leg is literally the same size as your arm," due to post surgery atrophy.  The battle had begun, Heart over mind.  In that first week, the pain was excruciating, as my leg worked its way back to health.  Going to the bathroom and taking showers were events that produced many tears, as my grandmother assisted me, sliding a bed pan under me to pee in, so that I didn't have to feel the pain of the blood rushing down my leg every time I stood up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  Every day Leslie and I worked, and her absolute certainty and unwavering faith in my ability to bounce back, helped to fortify my own faith.  As Bela shunned me, and my parents and grandma kept telling me to quit, unable to believe in my ability to come back, I reached toward faith.  Every day I grew stronger, and within two months time I was back, standing on the podium in Paris, France, receiving the silver medal at  the 1992 World's Gymnastics Championships.  


As I reflect on that experience, I am reminded of the small victories that occur on the path to the big victories, and the importance of taking the time to celebrate them, for it is in those tiny celebrations that we allow ourselves to experience the sweetness of the journey.  That is something I realize now, yet didn't know then.  


Back in the gym, our training had intensified with the Olympics only three months away.  The mounting pressure of country, coaches and self was palpable, as routine after routine we worked to perfect every element.  As my training intensified, it seemed so did the pains in my body.  I could feel the pressure of my family projecting towards the day when, "This would all be over,"  and our family would be reunited again.  My grandmother had moved to Houston to live with me two years prior, as I was too young to live alone and living with a boarding family as I did in my first years at Karolyi's was no longer favorable, given my training and travel schedule.   Grandma had voiced many times that she could hardly wait to be back in Elmhurst, Illinois with the rest of the family.  At the time, I couldn't help but feel the weight of her emotions, and the emotion of my family as they seemed to be struggling without my grandmother there to help them.  At the time, I felt guilty that my dream could be causing such suffering and unhappiness for my family, and shouldering much of the blame for the state of their emotions felt like an elephant standing on my shoulders, yet in my Heart burned the promise of a dream placed there by God, so long ago.  I knew that this was my time of testing, at the end of a long fought battle, just before the glory of victory, and so I pressed on.  


Two months before the Olympics, we were training on the uneven bars, nearing the end of morning workout.  My back had been bothering me for several weeks, yet I was powering through the pain.  I went through my bar routine as usual, and as I landed my dismount, as my feet hit the mat, I felt a jarring pain shoot down the back of my legs as they gave out from beneath me.  My legs had gone numb.  As I knelt there on the mat, terrified, I didn't move for a moment.  Bella began yelling at me to move out of the way so that my teammates could continue with their routines.  I fought tears from welling up in my eyes as I slowly rose to my feet and moved toward the chalk tray.  Kim looked at me and asked under her breath if I was Ok.  I said I didn't know.  As I gathered myself, a throbbing pain began surrounding my lower back and I realized that I was going to have to say something to Bella, because I could barely move.  He was already angry, and as he yelled at me to get out of his sight, I began moving slowly towards the exit of the gym.  Leslie was in the training room above the gym watching the whole occurrence, and immediately came to help me up the stairs and into the training room.  We immediately went to have x-rays taken, and as I lay there in the examining room, awaiting the results, the power of conviction in my Heart had already superseded any thought in my mind that would possibly deter me from my dream.  The results came back, and I had broken my back, I had fractured my L3 and L4 vertebrae.  The fracture was clean.  My first question was, "When can I resume training?  Because I have no time to lose with this."  I was told there was a one percent chance of paralysis, yet if I could handle the pain, then I could train.  From the surgeon's office I called my mom who was in Chicago and informed her of the situation.  Again, she urged me to quit and said that I had done enough, it just wasn't for me and that I should come home, and that there was no point in possibly injuring myself further.  I understood that she did not wish to see her child injured any further, yet I was fired up with the feeling that no one understood my dream but me.  I told my mom I would return home, but not until I had won an Olympic medal.  


I was Leslie who kept believing in me, when no one else did.  She reminded me that if I could dream it, I could do it, and she urged me to keep reaching for the stars; so I remained in faith, calling to God to give me the strength to get through this day.  I prayed that same prayer every day, and at the end of each day, I realized my prayer had been answered.  The US Championships and the Olympic Trials had come and gone without my participation, and yet I knew, like I knew, like I knew, that I would be on that Olympic team.  Now I have heard it said, that the Grace of God, will move into the Hearts and minds of others in order to work in our favor, if we but stay in faith.  I saw the truth of this manifest in my experience, as the USA Gymnastics Federation moved to hold a second trial, closed to the public, yet watched closely by the judges, coaches and members of the Gymnastics Federation.  This trial would give me the opportunity to prove my readiness and allow the heads of team USA to hand select the best team of six to represent the US in Barcelona.  My international ranking as one of the top three gymnasts in the world, my physical readiness at the second trial and the willingness of my coaches, Bela and Marta, to stand up on my behalf, by the Grace of God, gave me the opportunity to be a part of the Olympic team.   


Kerri Strug, Kim Zmeskal and myself awaited the results in our hotel room.  The seven Olympians would be leaving the following morning and heading to Tampa first, and then to France for pre-Oylmpic training, and as we sat there, it felt like lifetimes passing in the course of an hour.  I did my best not to pace, as both Kerri and Kim reassured me that there was no doubt that I was going to the Olympics.  Their spots on the team were already assured.  We turned on the television for some entertainment, and as we flipped through the channels, we stopped suddenly when we heard the newscaster say, "We have the 1992 Olympic women's gymnastics team for you after the break."  My heart literally leapt into my throat, as I gulped down some water in an effort to push it back down into my chest.  I thought, "My goodness, am I really going to discover my fate from the news?"  As I sat there on the bed, holding Kim's hand, they started flashing the names on the screen, and there it was, my name, listed under the title "Olympian."  A wave of relief and calm enthusiasm washed over me as I beamed.  Not a moment went by before we heard a knock at the door; it was Marta, she had come to tell me that I was going to the Olympics!  I tried my best not to let on that I already knew.  After Marta left, I called my mom and let her know the news, that she and my family would be traveling to Barcelona.  She said, "Congratulations, I had a feeling you would be going."  The first part of the dream had been realized.  The pain in my back persisted throughout the Olympics, yet each time I stepped onto the podium to do my routines I felt nothing but freedom, and in that freedom I went on to win an Olympic Medal with team USA.  Victory!


I had not allowed myself to "get weary in doing well," I had "fainted not" and indeed the "due season" came in which I might "reap" the victory.  I had experienced the lesson of perseverance when the road was rocky.  I had  experienced the power of faith when weariness had set in, and ever since, I have been able to apply these lessons throughout my life's journey.  I know in my Heart, that certain victory awaits on the other side of testing.  I know that triumph stands ready to greet me on the other side of challenge, and I am positively filled with hope and the power to strive, to reach my highest potential, always.  Never give up.  Keep the faith.  Hold the vision, and victory is certain.

Never, ever, ever give up.  Keep in faith.  Follow your dreams.  Trust your Heart.

Injury in the Sport of Gymnastics: Taking Responsibility
by Elizabeth Anna aka Betty Okino

Recently I reunited with an old gymnastics buddy, Domi aka Dominique Moceanu, at a book signing for her new book "Off Balance," and of all the questions asked, the most common ones were pertaining to injuries and the physical wear-and-tear of the sport of gymnastics.  There has always been a lot of talk about injuries in the sport of gymnastics, this isn't something new, and for myself, well, it seemed like I was often recovering from a tear here and a fracture there.  Almost all of my injuries were "stress related."  And while there is a great physical demand placed upon the body of a gymnast, for myself and in my life, I know that the stress that I was experiencing in my home life was manifesting itself in my physical body in the form of injury.  I was often told that my body simply wasn't built to handle the sport of gymnastics.  This found root in my psyche and manifested itself as injury.  Although a number of factors contributed to the plethora of injuries incurred during my career, the greatest factor was not speaking up when I knew my body had had enough.  The following is an example of just such an occasion, where my choice to keep quite resulted in injury.

I remember one practice before USA vs. Rumania when we were at the Karolyi Ranch in Houston.  We were on our third practice session for the day, and it was about 9:30 pm.  I had been on top of my game for the past few weeks.  Every routine on every event was perfect.  Even Marta remarked to Bart and Nadia, who had popped in to check us out before the competition, that she was "absolutely amazed" by my performance lately.  We were on bars, our last event for the night.  I had already nailed, and finished my seven routines, while some of my teammates were still completing theirs.  I stood there looking at Bela for my next instructions, as we customarily did after finishing our set amount of routines.  I expected him to say, "OK Bettyson, get ready for conditioning."  "Bettyson" was my nickname.  Bela instead looked at me and then yelled, "What are you looking at, what are you waiting for...Go!!!"  I thought to myself, you have got to be kidding me, how many more routines do you want me to do?  Yet I remained silent and went again.  I could feel my body at it's breaking point, and pondered saying to him, "I'm done tonight," but I didn't say anything, thinking, maybe thats just the crazy inside of me trying to come out.  It's late, we've been training for hours and he's pissed.  What would he do if I simply sat down and started taking my grips off?  I barely got through that thought and it was my turn again, and again I stood there looking at Bela, and again he yelled at me to "Go," and do another routine.  My next turn I stood there looking at him, and he instructed me to start working on a new dismount, it was a double front, half out.  Now it was 10 o'clock pm, the night before the USA/Rumania competition, and he wanted me to start working on a new dismount..."What!?"  At this point I started to feel a bit scared, not because of the dismount, but because I could feel how tired I was, and I knew that working on these dismounts right now was superfluous, and I feared hurting myself.  I did about eight dismounts, and on my 9th one I could feel the exhaustion in my arms.  I barely pulled it around to my feet and landed really low, rolling onto my back.  I instantly felt a pull in my hamstring and it immediately ceased up.  At this point Bela wasn't really watching me, he was more concerned with my teammates who weren't making their routines, so I got up slowly and walked over to the chalk tray, hoping that the sensation in the back of my leg was nothing.  I didn't have to take another turn because Bela called us to conditioning.  The next morning I woke up limping.  My hamstring and glute were so tight, that it felt like if I took a long step it might snap.  I was scared to tell Bela and Marta and the USAG, but I knew that there was no way I could compete that day, so I told them.  The trainer checked me out, and confirmed that I had indeed partially torn my hamstring.  As I sat on the sidelines, watching my teammates compete, I wished I had had the courage to speak up in that moment when I had reached my point.  The moral of this story is, that while I could blame Bela, Marta or gymnastics for my injury, the power over and responsibility for my body is, was, and always will be mine, and mine alone; and while I was very much aware of what my body was telling me, I chose to ignore it and remain silent, for fear of possibly being yelled at.  It sounds silly, possibly get yelled at...or...tear your hamstring...hmmm?  The choice seems obvious, yet as science has shown us, fear & anger eclipse the rational portion of the brain.

We are the beginning, middle and end of our experience.  We as athletes, must take responsibility for ourselves, our bodies, and communicate sincerely, without fear, when something needs to be conveyed.  Let us no longer be victims of our experience, whether it be injuries, gym politics, or any destructive practice.  Let us instead be the masters of our own experience.  There is no great change that does not first begin within one's self.

It is my sincere hope that parents, coaches, athletes and the Gymnastics Federation will always encourage open and sincere communication among and between athletes, parents, coaches and leaders, with regards to the athletes well being.

My fellow gymnasts, athletes and friends, once we take full responsibility for ourselves and our choices, we can no longer be the victims of overzealous coaches, pushy parents, politics or any unfair practices.  

If we wish to change sport, our country, or any other thing, we must change it from within, we must stand up, and with respect,  honesty and a calm poise, fearlessly  speak our Heart.  The evolution of any system always begins within, and ultimately within one's self, as a new choice made from a place of greater understanding and deeper conviction.  I thank you.  
Go team USA!!!

 Betty Okino Photo Gallery

From walking the beam to walking the red carpet, here are a few photos that I have had the pleasure to be a part of.