When Jane Caliendo was diagnosed with colon cancer in January, the Sandburg girls swimming and water polo coach vowed to battle it.
The Sandburg community rallied around her and, galvanized by her fighting spirit, called her “Warrior Jane.”
Mrs. Caliendo lost her battle Saturday, dying at age 46.
Her death did not come, however, before she inspired countless people at Sandburg and beyond.
“When she was diagnosed, she wanted people to know,” said her husband, Jim, the boys swimming and water polo coach at the Orland Park high school. “She wanted to ask for prayers. So we put it out there and everyone rallied around her.
“What started out as us asking people for help ended up with her helping and influencing them with the way she went about it and the way she stayed positive through the whole thing. All of a sudden, we have people telling us about how she inspired them and she motivated them. That almost became her legacy.”
Mrs. Caliendo, born Jane Schofield, was also a physical education teacher at Sandburg, where she began teaching and coaching in 1992.
A graduate of Sandburg who went on to swim at the University of Illinois, she had much success coaching at her alma mater.
Her swimming teams won 10 straight sectional championships from 2003 to 2012 and won eight SouthWest Suburban Blue titles in nine seasons since the conference’s formation in 2005. In water polo, the Eagles have won seven Blue crowns since the conference’s formation and reached state in 2002.
Mrs. Caliendo will be remembered for much more than the wins, though.
“Jane touched a lot of lives, not just at Sandburg, but throughout the Orland Park community,” Sandburg athletic director Mark Krusz said. “When I first met her, the first thing that jumped out at me was her positive attitude and positive outlook. When she got the news about cancer, she had such a determination to keep that positive attitude. I was kind of in awe of it.”
“I can’t think of one person at Sandburg she hasn’t touched in some way,” Sandburg soccer coach Desi Vuillaume said.
Jim Caliendo said his wife always had a smile on her face.
“She was always positive,” he said. “She was a very special lady. As a competitor, a teacher and a coach, she always saw the good in everybody. Even our biggest rivals had great respect for because they saw how she wished well for everyone.”
That respect was shown throughout the swimming and water polo seasons since her diagnosis, with countless opponents honoring her at meets and games against Sandburg, whether it was by making T-shirts, hanging banners or just passing on well wishes.
Lincoln-Way Central girls water polo coach Karen Desruisseaux is a Sandburg alum and a former gym student of Mrs. Caliendo’s.
“She and Jim have been the most enthusiastic people in the state about swimming and water polo,” Desruisseaux said. “She was always so happy and overjoyed. When I started coaching, she took me under her wing and did a lot to help me. Going back to Sandburg and seeing her always felt like going home, even when they kicked our butts.”
Through the good days and the bad ones since her diagnosis, Mrs. Caliendo lived up to the “Warrior Jane” nickname, Jim said.
“She was a fighter,” he said. “She taught us all what’s important, and I think Jane thrived on that — having everything put into perspective.
“Yes, she got cancer, and that’s a bad thing. But she dealt with it in such an inspiring way, and that’s a very good thing.”
Mrs. Caliendo is survived by a daughter, Maggie; a stepdaughter, Jamie; and a stepson, Jason, along with five siblings and several nieces and nephews.
Visitation is scheduled for 3 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Sheehy Funeral Home, 9000 W. 151st St., Orland Park. A funeral Mass is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Michael Church, 14327 S. Highland Ave., Orland Park.