Power and Grace: Venus Williams and an awesome mom / by Paluna Santamaria

This week Im happy to share a piece by my friend Amber Dunford. I have known Amber for few years now and to me she embodies POWER AND GRACE. She is not only physically strong, athletic, flexible and beautiful. She is also an amazing/inspiring human being with more talents than I can list. You can watch her in action here  I am so pleased to have her share a story deep to her heart.  Enjoy!!! 


Amber in her fitness modelling days :) 

Amber in her fitness modelling days :) 

When I think of power and grace, I can think of numerous women who fit the profile, and who I admire for a variety of reasons. So it's fitting that I couldn't make my post about one woman, but rather two. Two women who couldn't be more different but share the same struggle, as many of us often do.

The first, is my mom. About nine years ago, my mother was diagnosed with Sjögren's syndrome. She was experiencing inexplicable and unusual symptoms for some time before her official diagnosis. It goes without saying that I look up to my mother and have always aspired to be like her. So when I learned of her diagnosis and its implications I was extremely worried but also determined to learn as much about it as possible. Sjögren's is a type of autoimmune disorder. These disorders occur in various forms when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy tissue, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, chron's disease and many more.

Around this time I was becoming heavily involved in the fitness industry and the paleo trend was gaining in popularity. After adopting the paleo lifestyle and doing more research about it, I noticed that correlations were often drawn between nutrition and autoimmune diseases such as Sjögren's and that paleo nutrition was said to help with the prevention and treatment of many autoimmune disorders.

Over the next couple years after her diagnosis, my mother tried various treatments and testing and also changed her diet drastically. Today she is full AIP --auto immune paleo-- and has found it has helped her symptoms significantly.

Her test results became part of the international database for research on Sjögren's and although there is no known cure, she has comfort knowing that research on her advanced case will help to find future treatment.

Fast forward to 2011. Superstar tennis player Venus Williams had been experiencing symptoms of fatigue and joint pain in varying degrees for a number of years until doctors finally diagnosed her with Sjögren's. As a result, She dropped out of the US Open that year to get a handle on her newly diagnosed condition and determine a method of treatment. Williams is a well know athlete who has formerly been ranked number one in the world and has won numerous titles and four Olympic medals. Tennis analysts were quick to write her off after her diagnosis but she courageously returned to the court with a vengeance and won the Dubai Title in 2014 and continued to make headlines in Wimbledon.

Venus Williams being awesome :) 

Venus Williams being awesome :) 

She made the very smart decision to forgo medical treatment and use diet to help manage her symptoms. She now lives a vegan lifestyle and has modified her training regimen to be more conducive to proper rest and recovery.

As saddened as I was for this incredible athlete to have her career threatened by this condition, I also breathed a sigh of relief that some real attention would be brought to it.
A high profile athlete being diagnosed with Sjögren's could potentially mean that more funds will be directed towards research for a cure and will help to bring more attention to the issue.

Until advanced treatment or a cure is found, women like my mom and Venus Williams will continue to pave the way for others who are diagnosed with Sjögren's by bringing awareness to the issue and helping to prevent the disorder through education.