Nelson Dellis said he was just an average student.
He doesn't have a photographic memory.
He's not a savant.
Yet somehow the 29-year-old Miami resident can memorize a shuffled deck of cards in less than a minute. He can remember the names of every person he meets.
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The two-time winner of the USA Memory Championship said this talent is not something he was born with but rather something he has trained himself to do. And he said it's the same for all the other people who compete in the memory championships.
"They all have a trained memory," he said. "They've all learned techniques."
After Dellis' grandmother suffered through Alzheimer's disease for years and died in 2009, Dellis decided to do something to improve his memory.
He bought an audio book by a past World Memory champion, started practicing the techniques in the book and realized he was pretty good at it.
"I never thought that I'd end up winning a competition," he said. "It was just a hobby that I got into because of my grandma, and I got really into it. It turned into this big thing."
Now Dellis spends his time traveling the world teaching others how to improve their memory. He will be sharing his techniques with the public Oct. 9 at Hilton Head Beach & Tennis Resort on Hilton Head Island. The event will benefit Memory Matters, a nonprofit organization that serves people dealing with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia in Beaufort and Jasper counties.
"We're very excited about having him come," Memory Matters executive director Edwina Hoyle said. "Anybody that wants to be motivated, inspired and wants a healthy brain needs to come to this event."
Dellis has been featured on Good Morning America, the Dr. Oz Show, Nightline and much more.
In addition to improving his own memory, Dellis wants to raise awareness of Alzheimer's and raise money for research. He thought what better way to do that than by combining his two loves -- memory and mountain climbing. So he started the nonprofit Climb for Memory Foundation in 2010. Dellis said he works with the Southeast Florida chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and asks people to donate money every time he climbs a mountain. So far, he has climbed Mount Ranier, Mount McKinley, Mount Everest, Mont Blanc and Alpamayo.
"I just want people to know what I know," he said. "It's so easy to learn. All you have to do is kind of think differently about memory and then suddenly you can activate this skill."
Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.