I know what you’re thinking: How is “memory” a sport?Believe it or not, people from around the world compete in memory competitions, including the annual USA Memory Championship that’s taken place every year since 1997.One of those people is three-time winner, Nelson Dellis. Though he doesn’t go around calling himself an athlete, Dellis admits he is one. “Like most obscure things, there is a competition to be the best at it, and all of us [who compete] call each other athletes because we take it very seriously,” Dellis said. “There’s a lot of training that goes into it. That’s really where the athlete part comes in.”What happens at a memory competition?The U.S. championship takes place over the course one day. The morning round starts with anywhere from 30 to 60 competitors participating in events centered around remembering names, numbers, playing cards and poetry. The top eight competitors advance to the afternoon round, where they’re put on a stage with an audience — often hundreds of people — and tasked with memorizing words and information about specific people brought in front of them. Three finalists must memorize two decks of cards in five minutes (or as much as they can), and recite the exact order of the cards on stage. The last person standing is crowned the winner.How do memory athletes train?For Dellis, it’s an intense process. “The month’s leading up to [a competition], it ramps up quite heavily to about four-to-five hours a day,” he said — though he admitted he’s a bit of a perfectionist who of course takes this very seriously. “I don’t know who else does that much or if it’s necessary.”Dellis spends most of his time re-creating the competition’s events with drills and trial runs. “The idea is that I do it so many times that when it comes to the competition, it’s just like another practice run and it’s automatic,” he explained. He also uses a website called MemoCamp, which offers simulations of the championship events.READ MORE: Pump Up Your Brain By Pumping Up Your HeartHow on Earth do people get involved this sport in the first place?For Dellis, memorization started out as a matter of brain health. His grandmother passed away from complications of Alzheimer’s disease in 2009, which inspired him to investigate brain health and how he could improve his own. He came across information on memory competitions, and decided to try his hand and see how far he could get. “The more I got into it, the more it became my ‘thing’ and the more I saw how cool it was to have this … memory power,” Dellis said. “It became this secret power that I had unlocked.”That ‘power’ is the hook for lots of competitors. “I’ve seen older people get into it because of the worry [about brain health], but I think most people who are younger are just intrigued by the power that they can unleash,” he explained. “People like getting into obscure things because it’s a cool skill to have, and it applies, if we’re not talking about brain health, to school, and to work. To have those skills, whether you’re competing or not, is a huge benefit.”So you’re saying competitive memorizing is good for my health?It’s possible. Dellis noted that some studies have indeed shown memorization can delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, though others have been less conclusive. Either way, it can’t hurt. “My opinion is I’ve transformed my brain, even if it’s just the way I think about memory,” he said. Instead of letting age get the best of his memory, Dellis sees the value in training and learning memory techniques that he can draw on as he gets older — especially in the age of technology, when it’s easy to let memory slide.With the ability to program everyone’s phone number, and look everything up on smartphones, the use of our memories has diminished. It’s the brain’s version of If you don’t use it, you lose it. Or, as Dellis put it, “Your brain’s sitting on the couch, when it could be out running about doing stuff.”READ MORE: Is The Internet Making Us Illiterate?But aren’t some people just better at remembering things than others?Not true, said Dellis. “You’ll find that most, if not all, people [who compete] are using techniques they learned and that they trained,” he explained. “There’s never anybody who’s just naturally good.”Even the U.S. champion forgets things sometimes. He even, gasp, has phone numbers programmed in his cell just like the rest of us. “Look at Usain Bolt, the fastest guy in the world,” Dellis said. “I’m sure he likes to walk; I’m sure he likes to sit on the couch. I’m sure he’s not sprinting everywhere.” Same goes for Dellis, who spends countless hours memorizing things at high speeds. Sometimes the guy just needs a break.What if I want to compete? How do I get in?Head over to the USA Memory Championship website and register (Dellis says registration usually opens up in January). As long as you’re at least 12 years old, you can participate.Any other tips I should know?Not surprisingly, staying physically fit and eating a healthy diet can helps your memory. “Being active, even the slightest bit, can help improve your memory, [and] improve blood flow to the brain,” Dellis explained. He also recommended a regular intake of DHA Omega 3 (fish oil pills or salmon), and plenty of antioxidants (stock up on those blueberries!).As far as techniques for improving your memory, Dellis said visualization is the big one. Whatever you have to memorize, turn it into a picture in your mind — it’ll make that thing less random, more meaningful and thus, easier to remember. For example, Dellis associates the Ace of Diamonds card with himself — so rather than picturing an A and a Diamond, he pictures himself. The same can be done for numbers, too. Sports fan? Dellis recommends, when memorizing a number, to picture a specific athlete with that jersey number. So, if the number is 23, picture Michael Jordan.But what it really comes down to is trying. “It’s so easy, with technology, to not try,” Dellis said. “But if you’re concerned about your brain and you want to use your brain power, then make the effort. You’ll find as soon as you make the conscious effort to try and memorize something, your memory is already improved.”This is cool, but I don’t think I’m into competing. I’d rather just follow along.Keep up with Dellis via the charity he founded shortly after his grandmother passed away, called Climb for Memory. Dellis, an avid mountain climber, combined his two interests to create this foundation. He travels the world climbing mountains, building up buzz, all the while raising awareness and money for the Alzheimer’s Association. You can keep track of his adventures here.READ MORE: 7 Apps That Improve Your Memory