When Cheryl Dolyniuk graduates from the Naval Academy next year, she will leave behind a remarkable record of athletic accomplishment, which may include the honor of becoming the first woman to have won 12 varsity letters.
The 12 letters would not be unprecedented, according to the school's publicity office. Several trackmen have won a dozen with competition in cross country, indoor and outdoor track. But Dolyniuk would become the first woman and her letters have come in three unrelated sports.
Dolyniuk, a 6-foot junior from Glendale, Ariz., has competed in crew, swimming and volleyball for the academy, and has maintained a 3.4 grade average while majoring in systems engineering.
Dolyniuk had quit swimming competitively when she was 16 because, in her mind, she had reached her peak in the sport. When she came to the academy, however, she decided to give it a try again, and has made AIAW Division II all-America for three years.
She also starts at center-blocker on the volleyball team and rows on the varsity eight.
Dolyniuk might miss a 12th letter if she decides to participate in other academy activities and forgo rowing next spring.
"I'm going to try very hard to compete in crew next season," she said. "I know some people who have been in the brigade and were forced to stop competing in the sport because they didn't have time. It will be hard to compete in crew with the brigade duty, but I'd like to do it."
Dolyniuk probably would have competed in three sports at the academy even if she had not elected to return to swimming. She was set to play basketball.
"The reason I came out for swimming was that the team needed some depth," said Dolyniuk. "I swam for so long and I felt burnt out; that's why I quit in the first place. I even told the coach at Navy I wasn't going to swim. But the team needed one swimmer for a decent relay team and since I felt I could be more important to the swim team than the basketball team, I decided to swim again."
There isn't much time off between seasons, but the coaches offer Dolyniuk a few days off when she switches sports. She usually declines.
"I wish I had six of her," said Navy's volleyball coach, Cindy Schendel. "She's just an amazing student-athlete. She's able to keep her grade point average so high and compete in three sports."
Crew was the only sport Dolyniuk started anew when she came to the academy. She had played basketball in her senior year in high school.
"The crew was a totally new experience for me," Dolyniuk said. "I didn't really have any problems picking it up and I really enjoyed it. Most of the people on the crew team are rowing most of the year and have winter workouts to keep up their endurance."
"She still does an outstanding job for being out just a portion of the year," said the crew coach, Dan Sayner. "Since crew follows swimming, she doesn't have any problems with endurance."
Although her academy activities have provided a tough challenge, Dolyniuk will face a greater one after graduation when her five-year obligation to the Navy begins. She would like to get her wings and become a Navy pilot.
"There is one to 1 1/2 years training before I can get my wings and then comes the five-year obligation," she said. "That's at least six years, but it's something I really want to do."
And so far, when Cheryl Dolyniuk has wanted to do something, she has usually found a way.