Growing up in a military family, Chris Dylewski always knew he wanted to serve his country. To be able to do that through the Air Force while also playing goalie for the Air Force Academy’s hockey team?
“I expect to wake up one morning finding this has all been a dream,” the Air Force senior said.
Yet Dylewski’s real pinch-me moment might have come at the Frozen Four when the 24-year-old received the Hockey Humanitarian Award, presented by BNY Mellon Wealth Management, an award that recognizes college hockey’s finest citizen — a student-athlete who makes significant contributions not only to his or her team, but also to the community-at-large through leadership in volunteerism.
It was a fitting tribute for a student who balances D1 hockey and the regimented Air Force curriculum with a double major in international history and political science, all the while also founding a nonprofit organization and two cadet clubs, just to name a few of his obligations.
“In 19 years, I’ve never nominated a player for the Humanitarian Award because we never had anybody who I felt was qualified,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “At the Academy there’s not enough hours in the day to do what you have to do academically and militarily, let alone if you’re a varsity athlete. I have no idea how Chris did it.”
Dylewski’s love for his country and his strong work ethic are long established. His father Gary is a retired Air Force major general and his grandfather also served in the Air Force, sparking Chris’ interest to join.
His passion for hockey came to fruition when he was in second grade and his friend’s father coached the only team in the area. Once Chris got his hands on the goalie pads he “never looked back.”
“The first time Chris and his brother tried hockey, the joke was on me,” his mother Lynn said. “I don’t like the idea of getting up at four in the morning, but my kids don’t like to get up even more than me. But they loved it from the very first experience; they’d pop out of bed at whatever time it took.”
Dylewski began volunteering in peewee hockey, and through high school he organized community garage sales in the back of the rink to create funds for kids who couldn’t pay their club fees.
“The community-service world and the hockey world are not separate,” he said. “They’re 100 percent sewn in together.”
The 5-foot-11 netminder lettered four years at Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, played with the Billings Bulls of the North American Hockey League and then joined the Tampa Bay Juniors of the Empire Junior Hockey League before heading to college.
Dylewski’s 20-year-old brother Matt — who plays at Robert Morris University, Peoria — played with Chris as a high school freshman.
“Chris showed me the importance of taking pride in everything you do,” Matt said. ”He never once allowed the pursuit of his goals to be a detriment to our relationship. He seldom has time to take a deep breath, but he finds time for me. He’s an outstanding goaltender and citizen, but an even better brother.”
While not recruited by the Falcons, Dylewski earned a spot on the team by proving his worth both on and off the ice. If he wasn’t leading in practice and in the weight room, he was traveling with the team doing video and most recently mentoring two freshmen goaltenders.
Although Dylewski doesn’t get much ice time in games as a fourth-string goalie, Serratore said he sets the tone in practice, in the weight room and in team meetings.
Yet because of Dylewski’s modest nature, Serratore discovered the charitable work serendipitously.
“I was at the rink in my office one Sunday — the cadets’ one day off — and all of a sudden, I see Chris pass by,” Serratore said. “I said, ‘What are you doing here?’ And he said, ‘I skate with the Wounded Warriors sled team.' He never talks about the extra work he does to anyone, he just does it.”
Due to his leadership work with the sled hockey team, Dylewski also won the Spirit of the Springs Award.
“If somebody’s got a better résumé than this guy, then I want to meet them,” added Serratore.
Dylewski developed a special interest in the nonprofit organization Team Impact and a sick 9-year-old boy named Jason whom he took under his wing at practices, games and in his spare time.
“He’s just this little ray of positivity, so that’s the kind of thing I point to when talking about this kind of work because it’s all like that — fun and fulfilling,” Dylewski said. “It’s easy to find time.”
Three years ago Dylewski came up with the idea for his own nonprofit, Rise, Inc., and his own mother didn’t even know he started an organization. Its mission is to develop ethical and inspirational leadership skills in young people who have a passion for serving their community.
“It’s the manifestation of this enormous gratitude I feel for all the opportunities I’ve had,” Dylewski said. “I want to give back so other folks can have those as well. Humanitarian work is sort of a vision of what I want my life to be, not just the thing I am doing on the side.”
The sky literally is the limit for this future Air Force pilot, but first, Dylewski will be attending Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in the fall.
As far as giving back to his country in uniform, he will serve his Academy commitment at the same time he incurs more from going to Harvard, so he’ll leave grad school with a five-year commitment.
“I’m sure the folks who are going to inherit him in the Air Force are going to be really glad to have him — I know what it’s like to absorb brand new lieutenants with their skill sets and character,” his father said. “He’ll be the lieutenant that everybody wants.”
Summing himself up in one word Dylweski said, “Ready.” Ready “to serve, to study and to work.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.