The Memory Guy
In my late 20s, I lived in a small South African seaside town, Umhlanga Rocks. I was a employed as a speech therapist in a small private practice. I had to teach children how to store information to their long term memory. To be absolutely honest, I had crammed most of my Speech Therapy and Audiology degree into my short term memory. The information was long gone! I felt like a complete fraud.
I had heard about this ‘memory guy’ that lived in our town. He competed in World Memory Competitions and was apparently extremely gifted. I researched and stalked him online and watched all his videos over and over again. The cost of his courses far exceeded my meagre budget.
A Set Up
I was almost 30 and unhitched. My colleague, perturbed by my single status, set me up with a man called Frank at a local church Alpha course. Frank was nowhere to be seen but sitting across from me was the very handsome memory guy, Daren Denholm! We fell in love and were soon wed. I quickly discovered he was a regular human being, with a beautiful brain that was in fact extremely ADHD (this is a story in itself). He really struggled at University. A local businessman funded his University and threatened to pull the funds if he failed one subject. Daren researched top memory specialists ( and met most of them in person. They coached him and he began competing in the World Memory Competitions. Needless to say, he passed his University degree with ease after that.
We were married only one year and I asked my beloved husband if I could accompany him to the 2011 World Memory Championships, in China. Of course! On condition that you compete in the competition, was the response. Soon after accepting the challenge, I fell pregnant with our first child. I had horrific morning sickness for the first 12 weeks. Despite the waves of constant nausea, I trained consistently for 30 minutes a day. My coach was phenomenal and extremely patient.
The more I trained, the more ‘efficient’ I became. I felt like the guy on the movie Limitless. I became invincible. My work day was organised and smooth. My mind was clear and uncluttered. I finished work on time which was unheard of! Most of my colleague’s stayed late or took work home. It really was an incredible time in my life.
A World Memory Competition
By the time we set off for China, I was 6 months with child. The Chinese airport officials were horrified that I was travelling when I was so pregnant! The competition was meant to be held in Beijing and only weeks before the competition they changed the venue to Guangzhou. These
cities are 2160 kilometers apart! Many of the German competitors pulled out of the event as a result of this unacceptable change of venue. We had to organise a train from Beijing to Guangzhou, which was interesting to say the least.
When we eventually reached our final destination, Daren was welcomed with open arms. This was his 6th competition, so he was well known and loved by many of the competitors. The Chinese competitors took one look at my belly and said that I was cheating because I had two brains!
The competitors were a fascinating bunch. Most of them were incredibly passionate about the sport. I recall two Polish brothers. They had dreamed of this event for many years. Their dad was a postman and so it took many years to afford the trip. I had the honour of sitting next to the youngest competitor. She was a Chinese girl and she smiled the entire way through the competition! She also annihilated many of the adult competitors, including myself. There was another young boy from India. He dreamed of becoming an astronaut. His dad said the only way to achieve this dream was to have a good memory!
On day 2, word had got around that a competitor with a photographic memory was late but on his way. We all awaited his imminent arrival with baited breath. Let’s call him Max Manning. Max, finally entered the building and sat his first event. He sat a few seats in front of me.
During my hours card event, I observed him closely. He started to doze off at around the 15 minute mark. At 45 minutes he was deeply into his REM sleep. At the end of the event, when the scores were displayed, everyone nervously scanned the names to see how Max’s photographic memory fared. He scored the grand total of 9 cards. Max Manning was definitely a highlight of the competition for me.
The competition spanned over 3 days and it was held in a huge exam type hall. The competition consisted of 10 events:
- Names and Faces: one must commit to memory and recall as many names as possible and link them to the right face.
- Binary Numbers: one must commit to memory and to recall as many binary digits (0100011101) as possible.
- Random Numbers: one must commit to memory as many random digits as possible, in complete rows of 40 digits and recall them perfectly.
- Abstract Images: one must commit to memory and recall the sequence of abstract images in as many rows as possible.
- Speed Numbers: one must commit to memory as many random digits as quickly as possible, in complete rows of 40 digits and recall them perfectly.
- Historic/Future Dates: one must commit to memory as many numerical historic/future dates as possible and to link them to the correct fictional event.
- Random Cards: one must commit to memory and recall as many separate decks of 52 playing cards as possible.
- Random Words: one must commit to memory as many random words as possible and recall them perfectly.
- Spoken Numbers: one must commit to memory and recall as many spoken numbers as possible.
- Speed Cards: one must commit to memory and, also, recall a single deck of 52 playing cards in the shortest possible time.
Life After the Competition
As with any competitive sport, it is rather an anticlimax to return to normal day to day living. I decided to continue the ‘sport’ but memorise information that was useful to me. I memorised the gospel of Mark word for word and the first 14 chapters of Revelation word for word (in the Bible).
Both of these exercises were extremely thrilling for me as I had always wanted to know scripture better. It was a time in our lives, where we experienced many difficult trials. Daren and I came to the humbling realisation that we were not very wise, both in personal life as well as business life. We embarked on a project of storing 250 of King Solomon’s Proverbs to long- term memory. This is by far the most life changing exercise we have ever done. Although the trials continued, we were able to manage and cope with them a lot better.
If a 6 month pregnant woman and a highly ADHD man can compete in a World Memory Championship, so can you! Anyone gifted with a whole, intact brain has a limitless amount of storage space.
About the Author
Kath lives with her husband and 3 young children in a small coastal town in South Africa. She is a speech therapist, who worked in London, Private Practices in Cape Town and KZN and then finally taught at Livingstone Remedial School in KZN, South Africa for 3 years.
During this time, Daren Denholm, her memory guru husband, trained her up to compete with him at the 2011 World Memory Championships in China, while she was 6 months pregnant with their first child! The Chinese competitors complained that she was cheating because she had 2 brains. She sat next to the youngest competitor, a 9 year old Chinese girl. It was at this point that the Online Little Genius Puppets programme was conceived.
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