I won! For the second year in a row! I feel so happy (and somewhat relieved) that my hard work paid off. The media attention I've been getting has just been incredible; one article after the other. My phone has not stopped ringing either. Also, the following that has come quickly in pursuit has been overwhelmingly awesome. Many of you have reached out to me, and I will be getting back to you as soon as I take a moment to sit down and breathe (which is now). A lot of you have asked how you can help out with my charity's efforts. Well, you can start by going to our charity's donation page and making a contribution: www.climbformemory.com/donate
Let's go through the whole competition through my eyes, shall we?
I woke up at 7am, having slept incredibly well and having eaten some phenomenal Salmon and Broccoli the previous night (at the same restaurant I've been going to for the past 3 years pre-competition). Showered, popped some BrainStrong DHA Omega supplements and handfuls of blueberries into my mouth, did some push ups and handstands, then was off. Walked down 3rd Ave from 25th St. to 14th….the EXACT same 15 minute walk I took last year, listened to some adrenaline-pumping music and finished it off with some laid back 90's hip-hop for some swag. I must say that for some reason I wasn't exactly "feeling it"….I actually was feeling incredibly nervous and I couldn't manage to shake it.
Either way, I walked into the ConEdison Building (where the competition is held each year) at around 7:45am, saying hi to the usual folks, Paul Mellor, Tony Dottino, Karen Pinson, some of the regular judges, etc. Had a quick talk to a future dangerous competitor Luis Angel, and then gathered my stuff to my seat. Of course I was put in the front row just to the side of Ronnie White....never fails! Sometimes I wish I could go back to 2009, where I was relatively unknown and was seated way in the back with no distractions, haha.
After meeting some more people and answering a lot of interview questions, I watched a scene from "The Art of Flight" on my phone to get my adrenaline going….perfect. I was good to go.
Names and Faces I've come to love this event over the years. It used to be my weakest event, but now i'd consider it one of my strongest. I was hoping to break the US record of 175 names (set by Michael Glantz a couple months ago), but as usual, the competition pressure slowed me down a tad and I only managed to get through memorizing about 180 names (10% of which I typically forget or spell wrong during recall). Writing them down during the recall felt easy and I sped through most of them, no problem. When all was done and said, I had written down 174 names. A few were guesses and a few were spelled wrong for sure, so I knew no US record was at hand, but definitely a personal best of about 150.
Turns out I got an extremely disappointing score of 64 points. I was shocked, and in 25th place. I knew I had done better than that though....there was no way I had made more than 100 errors. So I demanded the judges to review my paper. They did, and low and behold, they had left off a "1" before the 64. My score was 164! Well really it ended up being 162 (they found some extra points they had given me that were in fact, mistakes). Still, 162!! A personal competition best for me and enough to win the event.
Speed Numbers Feeling re-energized and in the lead, I was pumped for this event. I really felt like I was capable of doing close to what I had been doing in practice (which was between 300-360 digits). Breaking the 300 digit barrier would really be a big statement, not just to the US competitors, but also to the world. This event allows for two trials. The first, I totally froze. Camera men were in my face and moving all around me and I couldn't focus. I ended up with 176....a decent safe score, but very disappointing for me. Second round was much smoother and I felt a lot more relaxed, pulling through with 323 digits (made one mistake, so my final score was 303). A new US record! I was surprised that no one scored in the 200s. Was expecting Ronnie White and T Michael Harty to have done that. I guess next year...
Poetry My worst event. I hate memorizing text and poetry and I'm honestly naturally so bad at it. But, because of that weakness I trained especially hard for it and it showed. I won the event with 233 points (one point shy of the US record), beating out the Hershey High School poetry beasts. I couldn't believe it.
Speed Cards My best event. I was so pumped for this because honestly, this was the event I had trained for the most. Last year I set a US record of 63 seconds, but in practice over the past year, I had been consistently getting sub-40 second times. Breaking the 1-minute barrier for cards in competition is equivalent to breaking the 4-minute mile barrier for running and if I were to do it, it would be a huge step for the Americans in the memory world.
I didn't do it.
I hate excuses, but honestly, it really was the external factors that messed me up. The first trial I was speeding through the deck at a blinding rate when I suddenly hit a....Joker? Joker's are supposed to be removed by the judges before hand and my shuffled deck seemed to be the only one in the room that was left with Jokers...great. Seeing the Jokers threw off the story that I was creating in my head as I flew through the deck. So I lost track of where I was and had to start again. I also had to search the deck for the second Joker so that it wouldn't mess me up as well. Wasted a good 40 seconds on all of that and ended up with a time of 1m37s. Absolutely horrible. I didn't even get the whole deck right. I flipped the last two cards.
Tony pulled me aside and apologized and asked if I wanted to redo the memorization backstage. I should have said yes, but something in me felt like that wasn't fair. It's always easier to memorize in private and I wanted to prove that I could do a sub-minute memorization under pressure.
The next round I was going perfectly fast through the deck until one journalist came up to me and took two flash photographs IN MY FACE. Tony and Karen typically do a great job telling the media to NOT take photos during memorization, but it was out of control; the media had absolutely no respect for my boundaries. It honestly felt like they were the Paparazzi and that they really didn't care what they were doing as long as they got their shot. Kind of sad. Anyways, I knew the deck solidly, but I slowed down tremendously when the flashes happened. My time was 1m27s. I hadn't scored that bad in a year and a half. Luckily it was still good enough to win the event and keep my speed cards record from last year.
Random Words Having won all 4 morning events (not sure if that's a record in itself), I was in first place. My strategy for memorizing words has always been to go for 120. In training I had been practicing 100 words in 5 minutes, that way in competition, I'd have 10 minutes for review.
I nailed them.
After the 15 minute memorization period, the top 8 competitors went out on stage to recall the words. This event keeps getting tougher and we keep getting through a lot more words each year. It was tough to see Michael Glantz & Sophia Hu (both finalists from last year) stumble on words and get eliminated. I know they are typically awesome at words, so I'm not sure what happened. I was happy to see my friend Brad Zupp nail this event and make it through (last year he messed up on the first word).
Tea Party 5 audience members come on stage and say 8 facts about themselves (name, birthdate, phone number, birth place, etc). We also get the information written out in front of us. They say it on stage and then we get 15 minutes to review. It used to be that we only got 15 minutes TOTAL (including the time the audience members say their information) but Tony and Karen were giving us more time. Not sure if this was to try and get more people to wow the audience or not, but it made the event super easy. They really need to step it up to 6 people next year. I made one mistake on a little girl's hobby. I said "signing" instead of "singing"....that's my dyslexic fault. Ha. What little girl likes to "sign" things anyways? Duh, of course it was singing. But you get 3 strikes before you get eliminated, so I was safe and pulled through despite that tiny hiccup.
Double Deck Of Cards The finals was me, Ronnie White, Hannan Khan, and Mike Mirski. I had been training this event with 3 decks of cards. So 2 decks of cards in 5 minutes had become a breeze. The training paid off...I managed to get both decks in my head no problem. I was curious (and nervous) to see whether Ronnie had upped his game to be able to memorize two decks...
Turns out he didn't. Hannan was eliminated about halfway through the first deck, then Mike said outright that he had never memorized two decks of cards in his life and then bowed out after the first deck (just a side note, this kid will be a serious threat next year....just watch).
So there we were again for the second year in a row. Me and Ronnie, going head-to-head through the second deck. I knew I had both decks solid, so I was just extremely focused on making sure I said everything correctly. Even though you have the cards in your head, it's easy to slip up when you say them out loud. Luckily, Ronnie made a slight flub at the 66th card, saying the 7 of Clubs instead of the 7 of Spades and that was that. I was the winner!
I couldn't believe it. After another long year of training, my goal had finally materialized. My family and friends were all there so it made everything that much sweeter.
Not sure where I'll go from here or if I have another year of training for this thing in me, but we'll see. To be blatantly honest, I felt like I almost trained too hard. The competition felt easy and I was expecting for the competition to be a lot tighter. Hopefully people up their game next year...I really want a serious challenge (that's right guys, I'm calling you guys out. Bring it).
Overall it was a great competition with an unprecedented amount of competitors and viewers. There's no doubt that Tony Dottino, Marshall Tarley, and Karen Pinson all worked extremely hard to make the competition the success that it was. They are definitely on the right track to make next year's competition one of the biggest events ever.
Thanks again to everyone who has supported me over the last year and who put up with all of my crazy training and obsessiveness, thanks to all my supporters at the competition, and most of all, thanks to all the other competitors for being so awesome and for making this sport what it is.