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What Defines Who You Are?


Like every good hero, Michelle’s success didn’t come easy. Growing up, her childhood was far from privileged and closer to poverty. There wasn’t a lot of money. Her mother Ilene, a single mom of three, often struggled to provide financially. Unemployment, drug dealers, shortage of basic necessities, were all things that she dealt with as a girl. Being raised an Orthodox Jew, she felt there were no options for a career. The religion taught her to aspire to marriage and that an education was a tool to be used to enable you to have conversations with your husband. She is now a Jewtheist, and notes these circumstances did two things. First, they showed her what she didn’t want out of life. Second, they motivated her to push past her circumstances and create the life that she wanted.

In the background were female influences. It was Ilene's strength that taught her the resolve she needed to forge ahead.

“I learned compassion and strength from my mom. In addition to that I had two friends who’s mothers also played a big role in my life. Maratea Cantarella's mother, Virginia and Laura Grimm's mother, Hilda.

Virgina, an artist, always made the girls feel accepted and nurtured, even through those rough teen years. Laura's mother, Hilda gave the girls a safe place to hang out, watch movies and be themselves. No matter what crazy things they were getting into Michelle felt loved and wanted in their house.

"On Mother's Day I was lucky enough to thank Virginia for helping me to grow unto the woman I am, and was able to tell Laura how much her mom meant to me. I thanked her for sharing her mom with me."


Every hero has kryptonite. While finding herself, at the age of 15, Michelle found bulimia.

“ I binged and purged so often, that it nearly killed me. It was never enough to have just one cookie. I would have to have all of them. I felt if I was heavy that no one would ever love or accept me.”

The cycle continued for years, but eventually she sought the help of a friend, RJ. He would become accountability for Michelle, and with RJ's help she stopped. She began journalling when she would eat and throw up, writing down the number of days since she last purged. This began the healing process.

“I would dream that I ate and vomited and had to write a zero next to the number of days since I had. Then I’d have to convince myself that it was, in fact, a dream and not real. It’s better now though. I don’t really journal anymore, and I haven’t binged and purged for around 972 days.”


So let check in with Dr. Skoorka’s accomplishments.

* Doctorate in Mechanical Engineering

* Overcoming bulimia

* Designs submarines to protect our country

* Mentors women on their career paths

* Works with STEM students and shows them so many options for their futures

* Oh, and there’s this other little thing. She donated a kidney to her secretary.

When Michelle’s secretary, Leonora, was diagnosed with lupus, after only knowing her a bit more than 5 years, she volunteered her kidney. While it only gave her 11 more months to live, that was precious time to her family that Michelle’s gift made possible.

All this kindness and generosity and compassion from a woman that doesn’t understand why The OWEL Project wants to feature her or calls her a hero. Most heroes are reluctant, flawed, and humble. It's part of what makes them who they are.

Heroes are quiet, humble, always striving for greatness without the need for applause. They just aim for what’s right and good. They take bad circumstances and turn them into good.

Stay tuned for our last two posts about Dr. Skoorka, and don’t forget to subscribe and stay up to date about all of these Ordinary Women with Extraordinary Lives.

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