Air Force’s Chris Dylewski’s passion for giving back ‘born of how much I’ve been given’

By Scott Powers

The senior goaltender, one of five finalists for the 2016 Hockey Humanitarian Award, fits in community service around a demanding Academy schedule.

Air Force coach Frank Serratore didn’t expect anyone else to be at the hockey arena on a recent Sunday morning.

His team had a rare Sunday off. He was putting it to use with some office work. He then heard a nearby door open, and in walked Chris Dylewski, a senior goalie. Dylewski decided to utilize his day off to help out a local wounded warriors sled hockey team practice.

Serratore wasn’t surprised. He’s never had a player like Dylewski. It’s why Serratore, for the first time in his 19-year Air Force coaching career, decided to nominate a player for the Hockey Humanitarian Award.

These kids at the Academy, they’re taking 20-22 credits of real stuff, You’re competing at the Division I level. Then they have their military responsibilities. They just don’t have time for extracurriculars. I don’t know how he does it. To do what he does, there’s not enough hours in the day. He’s a remarkable young man. This guy is legit. He is really, really special.

Frank Serratore – Coach, Air Force

Dylewski, one of five 2016 Humanitarian finalists, is a busy man. He’s involved with the wounded warriors sled hockey team. He founded two cadet clubs — Operation Safe and the Genocide and Mass Atrocity Awareness Club. He devotes time to Team Impact, a nonprofit organization working with a young boy named Jason who suffers from a rare skeletal disease.

In addition to everything else, he founded Rise, Inc. which helps people, especially youth, develop the skills they need to be leaders and provide service in their communities.

“It’s an answer to a question that I’ve been trying to answer for myself for a long time, and that question is … how in the world can one person actually make an impact?” Dylewski said. “It seemed at the time — and I continue to feel this way — you can get pretty lucky and everything can line up correctly. You can end up in a position where you become a world-leading kind of figure. You become the president or you become someone like Nelson Mandela where you really have an opportunity to impact the lives of a huge number of people in a positive way.

“But it seemed to me that was depending on everything lining up correctly. I wanted to do something where I knew I could have an impact on as many folks as I could possibly manage. I didn’t want to rely as much on the timing aspect.”

Dylewski and some friends worked to create Rise in the last four years, and it has been a true nonprofit for the past year. They have 10 ongoing projects, including elementary school and nursing home outreaches, a shoe and backpack drive and the Mark Hartner Memorial Charity Golf Tournament.

The latter was named after the late father of Air Force senior forward Max Hartner.

“My father passed away two years ago, and Chris started a golf tournament for the children’s hospital to raise funds which go to help children’s cancer research,” Hartner said. “He named it in my dad’s name. That was really something. It meant a lot to me and my family for him to go and do that.

“That’s the coolest part: He reaches out to us. It’s a great opportunity for everybody to get involved in community projects. I’ve been helping out with Rise. It’s made everyone a better person in the process. It’s been a cool part of the journey.”

Dylewski’s on-ice hockey career hasn’t played out as he hoped. He’s been on the bench much of his career and has appeared in just one game. Despite that, he’s remained a team player. He was more than willing to become a mentor to Air Force’s two freshman goalies this season when Serratore asked him, and he’s always taken the lead on tutoring teammates. Hartner said he wouldn’t have been able to get through the Air Force academically without Dylewski.

“It has been very frustrating to not play,” Dylewski said. “I think I’d be lying if I were to tell you anything else. … The only way I’ve been able to get through that is the value I put on being in this family; my ability to give back to the team’s performance, perhaps more importantly in the long run, the lives of my teammates. Some of these guys are my best friends in the world, well, all of these guys are frankly my best friends in the world. I can’t really imagine myself not being part of that family.

“Any time I’ve been frustrated or kind of down or kind of thinking this really stinks not playing, I’d really like to feel that buzz again, that competition and be involved in that again, it never got to the point where that frustration trumped my passion, my excitement, my willingness to be a part of these guys’ lives and sort of make an impact in their lives and have them influence me as well.”

Dylewski will attend graduate school somewhere next year and plans to serve in the Air Force following graduation. His father and grandfather each spent 30-plus years in the Air Force as fighter pilots.

Regardless of where Dylewski ends up in the years to come, he’s guaranteed to continue to give back to whatever community he’s in.

“My passion, if you want to call it, for helping and giving back to folks is really born of how much I’ve been given,” said Dylewski, who was recently presented by the Colorado Springs mayor with the Spirit of the Springs Award. “For me, it sort of feels like, hey, I’ve been given so much I can’t imagine not trying to give back a small portion of that. And I really do feel that’s all I’ve been able to do is give back a small portion of that, a small portion of the incredible kindness, the incredible opportunities I’ve just been lucky enough to have as part of these communities.”