[Updated at 9:08 a.m. ET Wednesday] After winning his second straight U.S. memory championship, Nelson Dellis has had little time to think.
Since Saturday, when he successfully defended his USA Memory Championship title against 50 competitors in New York, he has done loads of interviews and answered many e-mails but still is finding time to savor his win after training for at least four hours daily over many weeks.
“I just did my first deck of cards since the competition this morning,” Dellis said Tuesday by phone from his home city of Miami, referring to part of his training routine. “I’m just taking it all in.”
Dellis, 28, broke his own U.S. record in one of the events in which competitors memorize as many computer-generated digits as they can in five minutes.
He correctly recalled a string of 303 digits in that event, breaking his 2011 record of 248. Through that and other preliminary events, he qualified for the title round in which he memorized the order of two shuffled decks of playing cards in the five minutes given. (The runner-up, 2009 and 2010 U.S. champion Ron White, lost when making a mistake on the 67th card.)
Dellis, who was profiled on CNN.com a day before the competition, began dabbling in mnemonics – the association techniques that memory competitors use to remember seemingly impossible strings of cards, words and numbers – in 2008, inspired in part by his desire to sharpen his mind after watching his grandmother suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. He’s since turned full time to memory-related ventures and has performed like no other American in the speed events, with records not only in speed numbers but also speed cards (officially 63 seconds for a deck of cards, but he says he once did it in 33.13 seconds in practice).
He might have been poised to break the speed-numbers record Saturday, but he said a few distractions hindered him. In one heat, he unexpectedly needed to remove two jokers while he was being timed (he says they were supposed to be taken out before he was given the deck), and in the second, someone took two flash photos in front of his face as he was studying the deck. His top speed cards time – the best of any competitor Saturday – was 87 seconds.
Dellis says he now has plenty to look forward to:
– Mountain climbing for Alzheimer's: Dellis will go to Peru in July to climb in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, part of a mountain-climbing series for his Climb for Memory charity, which raises awareness and funds for Alzheimer's research. The climb will be preparation for a planned 2013 trip to scale Mount Everest and the nearby Lhotse peak – a trip in which he hopes to raise more than $290,000 (adding a zero to Mount Everest's roughly 29,000-foot peak) for Alzheimer's.
– World Memory Championships: Dellis' victory qualifies him to go to the World Memory Championships, where he'd compete against the planet's best. Though his U.S. speed records are far better than those set by Americans before him, he has his work cut out for him on the global stage: The world record for speed numbers is 500 digits, and the mark for speed cards is 21.19 seconds.
"The (date and location of the 2012) World Memory Championships haven't been officially announced ... but I would love to compete," Dellis said. "There is an attainable grand master title to get by achieving certain scores, so I would love to get that."
– More speaking engagements, other ventures: Dellis, a master's degree holder who quit his job in software development last year to focus on his memory career, says he wants to secure more speaking engagements and other business opportunities. Already an ambassador for software memory solution company Fusion-io, he says he intends to write a book on how to use memory techniques.
Winning the 2012 U.S. title helps to validate the time he put into training, he said.
"I was tremendously relieved," he said. "I put so much time into this, and was really hoping to keep my title to keep my credibility high. I managed to pull that out, and I'm ecstatic. And my whole family was there (in New York) to see it, so that meant a lot."