Irene Brociner is used to dealing with challenges. Since age 7 she has had Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel condition that causes extreme discomfort in the gastrointestinal tract.
As a child, already shy by nature, Brociner — formerly Irene Wilkowitz — became even more introverted as a result of her condition, she recalled. Her symptoms, which include severe abdominal pain, vomiting and the urgent need to move one’s bowels, were not something the typical youth is keen to talk about. “It’s about going to the bathroom a lot. It can become really embarrassing,” said Brociner, now 51, an East Meadow resident since 1993. “You don’t talk about those type of habits to people. Not even my parents. That was just my life … I didn’t know any different.”
Unaware that her symptoms were caused by a disease, Brociner instead focused on gymnastics — she was particularly talented on the balance beam, and the sport served as a distraction for her. But tragedy struck in her teenage years, when her mother and sister died within four years of each other. After that, she said, her standoffishness hit an all-time high. “That was traumatic,” she said. “I was very shy before, and that just brought me way, way, way back.”
Finally, at age 26, at the urging of her husband, George, she sought medical testing, and learned that her disorder had a name. Shortly after that, she discovered the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, a nonprofit organization equipped with educational seminars and support groups, which has a Long Island chapter in Garden City. There she met others with the condition, and slowly but surely she began to find her voice. “You see that you’re not alone,” Brociner sad. “Now we can talk about it with each other. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
In 2008, she joined Team Challenge, the foundation’s training and fundraising program, which sends runners across the country to participate in half-marathons. She has since run five 13.1-mile races, raising $10,000 to help find a cure for her disease.