Softball alumna steps up to plate during COVID-19 pandemic

Lori Caloia '00, pictured right, speaks on a news set.

There was a time that trying to hit a rise ball, waiting on a change-up or just striking out a batter with runners in scoring position proved to be a difficult and challenging task for Lori Caloia ’00. But nothing compares to what she has had to face after her softball career came to an end.

The 2000 University of Detroit Mercy President’s Award winner and Horizon League Coleman Medal Of Excellence honoree has worked with the U.S. Air Force and was stationed in Afghanistan in 2007-08. Now, she has the role of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic as the medical director for Public Health & Wellness in Louisville, Ky.

“Right before this really all started, my mother-in-law passed away,” Caloia said. “On March 7, we were at her funeral. In my mind, I remember feeling really uncomfortable about having it, but at that time, we didn’t have any cases in Louisville. Since January, as more information was coming out, we had been monitoring the situation and I had many phone calls with infectious disease specialists and infection preventative specialists because, as a big city, we wanted to make sure we weren’t missing anything. That next day, the first case was announced in Kentucky and I just remember saying, ‘it is just a matter of time before it’s here.’ A couple of days after that, we had our first case in Louisville.”

Dealing with the pandemic has taken most of her time in the last six months as she worked closely with the Louisville mayor and his team on all safety precautions, which included closing down the city at one point.

“One day we were in a meeting with our mayor and his team, they looked at me and said, ‘Tell me what we have to do,’ ” Caloia said. “Around the same time, our governor was making recommendations on what to do next. At that time, I thought the best thing was to shut down because we just didn’t know a lot about the virus.

“Modeling studies were being published that showed the potential of what could happen without a drastic response. There are a lot of implications to that from an economic perspective, but at the time, that was the best recommendation I could make and did so without any hesitation.

“That was the best for our city to help protect and keep our community safe, and I can’t say that I ever thought I would be in that position to help make that call.”

Caloia — a native of St. Clair Shores who starred at Regina High School — followed her sister, Jeanne, to Detroit Mercy and onto the softball team. While having a family member at the school and on the team would seem like a selling point, it was the quick relationship she built with a professor at the University that got her to ultimately make the decision to be a Titan.

“My sister had gone to Detroit Mercy for four years prior to me coming and she was a Mechanical Engineering major and played softball for all four years,” said Caloia. “But, through my summer softball leagues, I met Dr. Charles (Chuck) Das and he had been in charge of the Academic Exploration program and I was really undecided on what I wanted to major in.

“I knew the University had that program and that was one of the drawing points for me. I was good at math and science but didn’t think I wanted to be an engineer like my sister, and having talked to him because his daughter was on one of my teams, he told me about the program and that was helpful for me in deciding to come and play softball.

“It was a very helpful thing to me because it got me exploring the things I liked and didn’t like, and got me into volunteering at different healthcare-related settings, like hospice and the children’s hospital. I also did some student teaching during the camps at the school in the summer, so that was very helpful to me in helping decide what I wanted to do in my career.”

While her sister lettered from 1993-96, Caloia came in right after, playing in 150 games with 138 starts from 1997-2000. She was used primarily as a pitcher her freshman year as she posted a 2.64 ERA in 100 2/3 innings, appearing in 22 games with 13 starts and tossing 13 complete games, while hitting .229 at the plate with a pair of stolen bases.

Caloia made 21 appearances in the circle as a sophomore and junior, recording a 1.78 ERA as a junior, but was an everyday starter in the outfield and designated player, seeing action in 89 games with 86 starts. She drove in 14 runs as a sophomore, but her average dipped to just .197 as a junior.

“We had some good pitchers in those years so I played outfield. I always saw my role as wherever the coach needed me, that is where I would be. If I was not playing and just cheering on my teammates, that is what I was doing,” said Caloia.

Then came Caloia’s star-studded senior year, as she was not only the ace in the circle but one of the league’s top pitchers and hitters. She finished with a team and career-best seven wins, 144 innings pitched and 64 strikeouts, throwing in 25 games with 23 starts and 17 complete games to the tune of a 2.92 ERA. As a hitter, she batted a career-high .355 with 21 runs and seven RBI. She was also a co-captain and an MCC All-Tournament Team selection and received the University’s President’s Award, given to the top senior female student-athlete.

“As a senior, I kind of had a little different perspective,” Caloia said. “There is a lot less personal stress and just the idea that this is your last time to do this and I always worked hard throughout college, but this was the last time to give it your all.”

Outside of softball, Caloia was a four-year member of the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll and a three-year member of the MCC’s fall and spring Academic Honor Roll, while also a member of Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and serving as the vice president.

“From an athletic standpoint, (former softball) coach Bob Wilkerson was supportive of the student-athlete as a student first and an athlete second, and his encouragement always made me remember why I was there,” said Caloia. “It wasn’t just to be an athlete, it was to help prepare me for the future. Our team always had one of the highest GPA’s in the league and in the country, and that goes back to the encouragement we received to be students. Just being around a bunch of smart young ladies was such a positive environment to be in.”

Caloia had thought about joining the military out of high school, but after graduating from Detroit Mercy summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry, she earned her M.D. from Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine in 2004. Before medical school, she was chosen for the Health Professions Scholarship Program, and because she was always interested in the military, she decided to pursue that route.

“After I finished medical school, I did a transitional internship with the Air Force to try and figure out what type of medicine I wanted to pursue,” said Caloia. “During the midst of that, I found out about a pretty cool opportunity to become a flight surgeon, which is a primary care physician for pilots and other aircrew and special operations personnel.”

After completing her medical degree, Caloia worked as a flight surgeon in the Air Force, stationed at an F-15 E (Strike Eagle) Base in North Carolina. She deployed with her squadron to Qatar as medical support. Soon after that, she directed a Flight Medicine Clinic in Bagram, Afghanistan, for a year and eventually became the Chief of Flight Medicine at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.

“Another duty that is covered by a flight surgeon is oversight of public health, occupational health, and environmental health on a base, which provided real-world experience for my current role in public health,” said Caloia. “What I enjoyed most about my deployment was a chance to get off the base a few times and meet and learn firsthand about the people and culture of Afghanistan and the history of the country. The people of that country have been through so many trials and tribulations that it really gives you a different perspective about war and your objectives of why you are there.”

Caloia met her husband, Jeff, a pilot and retired F-15E Weapon Systems Officer. They now have an 11-year-old son, Jacob.

Caloia’s career has also taken her to do a transitional internship at the San Antonio Uniformed Services Health Education Consortium from 2004-05 and a Family Medicine internship at Southern Colorado Family Medicine Residency in 2010-11. She finished a residency at Fairfax Family Practice (Virginia Commonwealth University) in 2013.

From 2013 to 2015, she was a physician for the University of Louisville Campus Health Services then, as Family Medicine Assistant Clerkship Director and core residency faculty member in the Department of Family and Geriatric Medicine. Caloia went on to work with Norton Healthcare as a primary care physician before her current role at the Louisville Department of Public Health and Wellness.

“The opportunities at University of Detroit Mercy allowed me to be successful in the setting that I was in,” said Caloia. “I honestly don’t think I would be where I am at today if I went to a bigger University or a place where I didn’t have that much personal connection with professors.

“A lot of my success was related to the ability to have that more personalized academic attention. Smaller classrooms, more one-on-one and small group learning, and for me, that was so impactful to be able to be successful in college and to also have the support I needed to explore my future career possibilities. I had several intellectual advisors in chemistry and the pre-medicine program and I don’t know if I would be where I am at today with those people encouraging me.”

The athletic awards she earned are not the only praise she has received. The long list includes Outstanding Faculty Award from the University of Louisville Family Medical Residency, Top Resident Teacher Award from Virginia Commonwealth University and the Major John Gillespie Award for Excellence in Medical Knowledge, Clinical Judgement and Medical Ethics.

“My personality has always been achievement-driven, but I never think about awards, I think about the process,” said Caloia. “I am not an award-driven person, but just do the best I can and even now in my current job, just do everything that I can do to help people…and that is more important to me than an award or plaque that I might get at the end.”

With everything going on, Caloia values and remembers her time as a student-athlete and all that it helped build in her. Being a student-athlete and playing softball is just like her job; you prepare and get ready, but you never know how the game will play out.

“It was a lot of hard work, just being a student-athlete in general,” said Caloia. “All the preparation that it takes to become a college athlete and I have always been someone who works hard at everything I have done in life. I wouldn’t say I was ever the smartest person or the most talented athlete, but with a lot of hard work, I think you can accomplish just about anything. That work ethic has always been a part of me.

“Discipline is a huge thing that college sports brings to people. That has been helpful for me, especially going into medical school and the military and it helped me acclimate to that setting and not being afraid of hard work.”

Original story by Detroit Mercy Athletic Communications