University of Miami instructor and ‘memory athlete’ aims to break world record


After memorizing the order of the playing cards underwater, Nelson Dellis rests by the pool and mentally recreates the order of the cards before attempting to assemble it at a table.

Miami Herald

A University of Miami computer science professor who is one of the world’s experts on competitive memory prowess hopes to be recognized as the world record holder.

Last Saturday he may have pulled it off – in a UM pool.

Meet Nelson Dellis, who won the USA Memory Championship five times, most recently in October in Orlando. He is also a “Memory Grandmaster,” a grand title bestowed by the World Memory Sports Council to memory athletes, as they are called, who have achieved significant milestones in international competition.

In the USA Memory Contest, held at a different location each year, challengers come from across the country to perform tasks such as memorizing random numbers from a piece of paper within a set amount of time, or memorizing an unpublished poem as soon as possible. possible.

Dellis, 37, has been a memory coach for Mark Cuban, Maria Shriver and other celebrities. He has spoken about memory training during appearances on nationally broadcast shows such as “Today” and the Netflix documentary “Memory Games.”

Nelson Dellis, hurricane speaker and memory athlete, is gearing up to break the Guinness World Record for the fastest time to organize a deck of memory cards underwater in a single breath. Daniel A. Varela Miami Herald

And he also did impressive things outside the realm of “memory”. Dellis, a graduate of Gulliver Prep High School, has a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s degree in computer science, both from UM. He is a mountaineer who has climbed Mount Everest, Mount McKinley in Alaska and other fearsome peaks. He is also an author, speaker, YouTube channel owner and consultant.

Dellis has achieved just about every big goal he has set for himself. But only one lingered: breaking a Guinness World Record.

On November 13, during Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, Dellis thinks he finally did it. It was at an event sponsored by Mind Lab Pro, a nootropic supplement that can help boost memory and for which Dellis is the spokesperson.

In the swimming pool

A dozen spectators and members of the media gathered at the Whitten University Center’s Olympic-sized outdoor pool to watch. Miami native, professional poker player Alex Cruz randomly and thoroughly shuffled the tight deck of cards that Dellis would use.

Then the very fit and very tall – 6ft 6in – Dellis stepped into the deep middle part of the pool and took a deep breath. For this feat, he had to be submerged while standing upright.

Dellis reached out to take the deck from Cruz, memorized the location of the cards it contained, then returned it to Cruz.

He walked up the steps to the pool, pausing for a moment to consolidate what he had just seen.

And then he sat down at a nearby table. His task: to rearrange the cards of a second deck in the same order as the deck he had just seen underwater. The official timing of the event has begun.

Nelson Dellis is filmed preparing to break a Guinness World Record. The certification process is rigorous: he brought in a camera crew and an independent card shuffler to document the process and prove the event was genuine. Daniel A. Varela Miami Herald

Dellis shuffled the game in two minutes and 22 seconds.

According to Guinness, the previous record of 3:42 was set in 2019 in New Delhi, India – by Sanchit Sharma, an employee of Deloitte, India.

Two other witnesses – Elvis Vasquez of Miami and Will McQueen of Napoli – verified that Dellis shuffled the deck correctly.

“I feel amazing,” Dellis said afterwards. “I’ve never made a Guinness World Record before…it feels really good.”

Dellis also tried to break a second record on Saturday, but it didn’t go as well. The challenge: How many cards could he memorize in one breath? He was trying for 72, about a bridge and a half.

He made about five attempts. He came close to his last try – he got 71, “but I made a small mistake, so it didn’t count.”

Even so, Dellis is confident he will be in the record books.

Dellis had hired a team to film the event, and the footage will go to London-based Guinness World Records, who will review it, make sure it’s authentic, and then decide whether to validate and certify the results.

Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

Dellis’ event at UM was during Alzheimer’s Awareness Month: He became interested in memory competitions years ago, in his early twenties, after seeing his grandmother fight disease.

“It’s hard to watch,” Dellis said. After watching his grandmother fall ill and ultimately succumb to Alzheimer’s disease in 2009, he wanted to know what he could do to avoid the same fate. “When she died…it was that whole moment in my life…what happened to her could happen to me when I’m older, and I wanted to do whatever I could do now to help me later.”

He found that many Best Memory contestants were not, in fact, born with good memories.

“It’s kind of like becoming a marathon runner or a pianist,” Dellis said. “You take lessons…then you practice.”

Hurricane lecturer and memory athlete Nelson Dellis. Daniel A. Varela Miami Herald

The preeminent technique that contestants use to memorize things is called a memory palace.

The technique works by thinking of a physical location that is familiar to you, such as your home. Then, in each room, you imagine one of the things you’re trying to remember.

The example Dellis uses on his YouTube page is a shopping list. An individual envisions a banana in their living room, then in the next room the next item on their grocery list, etc. The idea is that the brain remembers the layout of a house rather than random objects.

“At first you might think…why would I do this kind of weird thinking?” Dellis said. “In fact, it helps a lot. And it takes advantage of things our brain remembers better, than random abstract data.

Dellis believes the event, which focuses on physical fitness as well as memorization, also shows how you can improve your memory.

“We can take care of our memories through exercise,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it was all about.” this physical form.

About Tracy G. Larimore

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