I won! I am officially the 2011 USA Memory Champion! And man, does it feel good. It's something I have worked so hard for over the past two years. The win is such an achievement for me on so many levels. On a personal level, the feeling of working towards a goal and then accomplishing that very goal is such an incredibly satisfying feeling. On top of that, my goal was always to "make some noise" and gather attention about the memory techniques that I have trained and taught myself, and that should be learned by all. They are tools people can use to study, learn new things, become confident, and most importantly to potential thwart off the onset of Alzheimer's disease. To go a bit more into detail about the competition....I went into it pretty confident, but my nerves where a bit high in the morning. I feel like the hardest part of the competition for me was handling my nerves and making sure not to psych myself out. They had me sit next to 2-time defending champ, Ronnie White (the guy who beat me in the finals last year), as if that wasn't supposed to add to the already existing pressure....
The first event with names and faces, I started off slow, but ended with a decent score (134 names, I believe), which was enough for second place. Next, for the speed numbers event I went on to score 236 digits on the first trial, then 248 digits on the second trial (these beat the USA record from last year, which was 178 digits (set by me as well :D)). The closest score to me on that event was Ronnie White's 140 digits.
At that point, I was starting to get in my groove and felt really good and relaxed. The poetry event was so not stressful at all and I managed one of my personal best scores, memorizing 189 points worth of words, punctuation, capitalization, etc. That was enough for second place for the event, as Hershey High-school student, Michael Glantz utterly destroyed the poem and scored 235 points (and he apparently doesn't really have much of a system, he just reads it over and over and re-writes it == insanely awesome). That was a new US record, by the way.
Then finally we had speed cards. Cameras were swarming all around Ronnie and I and I totally blew the first attempt. My time was 58 seconds (quite slow in comparison to my training...), and I made numerous mistakes. So it came down to one deck. Play it safe or go for it? I figured I was already in a pretty good spot in the current rankings, so why not go for it? I knew my training had to pay off somewhere along the way. So I did. I mean, I went slower than usual, but still fast enough to beat the standing record for memorizing a deck of cards by nearly 25 seconds. I scored 1m03s. I wish I had gotten the US record under the 1 minute mark, but oh well....next time.
Getting the deck of cards all correct felt awesome and at that point I was number 1 in the standings. I felt super confident. A bit mentally exhausted, but excited to continue. I got a bit nervous when I found out that a handful of Hershey students were joining me, Ronnie White, and Brad Zupp into the final rounds (they can memorize words like its their job). So we went into the random words event. I went for 120 words, as I knew Sophia Hu would (she holds the US record for most random words memorized in 15 min at 120 words). Unfortunately Brad lost on the first word. He knew up to 72 or so, but jumbled the first word with the second. Ah! So frustrating. So he was out. The next person who was eliminated wasn't gone until, I don't even remember what number word. We ended up going all the way up to about 100 - which is crazy.
Five competitors remained. Next, was the Tea Party event. I had practiced this event so much over the course of the year, so I knew how to go about it. Surprisingly, so did most everyone else. Everyone basically completed recalling all 5 of the contestants information with only having one person eliminated (usually 2 people get eliminated from this event). So then there were 4 left. Me, Ronnie, Michael Glantz, and Sophia Hu.
I knew I could do the next event pretty solidly. Again, it had been something I practiced every other day. 2 decks of cards in 5 minutes. I went for both because I had no clue where Ronnie would be able to memorize up to. Last year he did 70 or so cards and won. I figured he might go for both decks. So I did as well, to be safe. Sophia and Michael were eliminated after a few cards and it ended up just being me and Ronnie. We fired back and forth for 72 cards and then on the 73rd card Ronnie said into the mic "I'd like to be the first to congratulate the 2011 USA Memory Champ" - I couldn't believe it, I had won! I was getting so nervous, thinking to myself, when is this guy gonna run out of cards. I thought we were going until the end....but I was solid and persistant, and that was enough to win it all.
So I won. For a year I get to claim the title of having the best memory in the USA. One goal down, another to go. Mt. Everest is next, which I leave for in two weeks. I am so excited for it and even more so for when I come back to push my charity even further and try to get more involved with schools, businesses, elderly homes, and hopefully even sports. So many exciting things to come! I feel like this year was great for the USA Memory Championships. The crowd was crazy and there was a lot of press from all over the world: France, England, and Russia. I hope this trends continue and I will do my best to make next year's competition even bigger.
Thank you everyone for your support over the last year!