November 12, 2012
CrossFit Makes a Strong Mind
By Lauryn Lax

"Part of the reason I joined CrossFit was to help my mental capacity."

Nelson Dellis uses CrossFit to improve his mental capacity. This improvement has twice earned him the title of USA Memory Champion of the world.

“Part of the reason I joined CrossFit was to help my mental capacity. I recognized that you need a strong mind to be able to do well in CrossFit. You need to be able to endure pain and maintain focus for extended periods of time,” Dellis says. “I figured that if I could learn to do that better within a heavy duty WOD, where I’m sweating profusely and my heart rate is running wild, I can probably do it better when I’m sitting calmly at a desk memorizing something.” 
 
Dellis, of Miami, explains that the USA Memory Championship competition asks the contenders to memorize names and faces, long numbers, order of decks of playing cards, lists of words and poems. And they must do it as fast as possible and in vast quantities. 
 
“There is this USA Memory Championship held every year in New York City where people come together to memorize tons of pointless information competitively. Sounds kind of silly, but it’s actually a pretty interesting competition,” Dellis says. “It sounds like a total nerd-fest, but it’s actually one of the coolest, most impressive things you'll ever see.”
 
Dellis got into the sport of memory three years ago after his grandmother died from Alzheimer’s. When she passed, he was inspired to research memory, searching for ways to keep his mind and memory strong. 
 
“I had never had a good memory and I wanted to know if that was something I could change,” he says. “Turns out I could. The USA Memory Championship showed me that you can have an average memory and train it with some simple techniques and practice, and become an amazing machine capable of seemingly ridiculously impossible memory feats.”
 
Admitting to having a “slightly obsessive personality,” he took the memory training to what he claims is a level no one else has done before in the memory world.
 
“As a result, I creamed everyone in 2011 and 2012,” Dellis says. 
 
This same obsessive personality has Dellis infatuated with CrossFit. A buddy told him about it and he started at I Am CrossFit in early February. Now, in his eighth month, he says he loves it.
 
“I used to train four days a week. Then five. Now I’ve gotten so into it that I will go a good number of days past that before I rest,” Dellis says. “I know it’s a bad idea, but I listen to my body and I feel like the more I push it, the better it gets at recovering faster. My goal is to summit Mt. Everest next spring for my charity for Alzheimer’s research called Climb For Memory, with a goal to raise awareness and funds for the disease. I need to be ready for long non-stop days of climbing. CrossFit has actually been helping me in more ways than one – not only memorizing for the championship, but also my other passion of climbing mountains.”
 
Dellis has already completed several climbs in several countries including: Alaska (Mt. McKinley), South America (Aconcagua, Alpamayo), Europe (Mont Blanc), the continental U.S. (Mt. Rainier) and Asia (Mt. Everest). 
 
“I made an attempt on Mt. Everest in 2011, but made it 280 feet short of the summit. After a one-and-a-half month-long expedition, I had to make the heartbreaking decision to turn myself around near the summit,” Dellis recounts. “My oxygen mask had froze, I couldn’t breathe properly, I had hit a wall, I had gotten extremely cold and I had walked alongside a recently dead climber. I was in bad shape.”
 
He was able to snap himself out of that weak state and get back down the mountain. 
 
“I’d say that choice was my greatest accomplishment. Sounds kind of contradictory, since I didn’t accomplish my goal of summiting, but I think it’s ultimately made me a stronger person and made me love and appreciate life that much more,” Dellis says. 
 
Dellis has used CrossFit to improve his functional performance in his favorite sport and everyday life.
 
“I used to think that if I ran more, and climbed stairs with heavy packs more, I’d be set in the mountains. And to a certain extent, I was. But CrossFit has taught me that there are so many more components to being in shape than I had previously thought,” he says. “When I came short on Everest in 2011, I know it had to do with the fact that I hadn’t trained right for that moment. CrossFit has taught me how to eat better, how to recover faster, how to push myself farther and how to make myself stronger in many different ways. I was recently on a climb in Peru and I sprinted up most of the mountain. I could seriously feel the difference from CrossFit.”
 
Dellis’ coach, Larissa Branson, says she sees determination and passion in him.
 
“CrossFit is really challenging,” Branson says. “You are always competing with yourself, so I think it's what makes us fall in love with it. That mental challenge will help you get stronger and prepared for any other sport, so I truly believe it has been helping Nelson a lot in all kinds of ways.”
 
Alongside defending his Memory Championship and climbing Everest, Dellis has other goals aside from Everest. “CrossFit Games champion,” he says jokingly. 
 
At the moment, he says his goals are to reach the summit of Everest in March, win another USA Memory Championship and master his muscle-ups. 
 
“ … Get myself to a point where I can do the top benchmark WODs in some seriously good times -- Fran, Grace, Diane, Elizabeth,” he adds.
 
For more information on this mental and physical modern-day super-human, visit Dellis’ charity website.