Eight years, two months and 10 days after he last took a day off from skiing, Rainer Hertrich reluctantly ended his world-record streak Wednesday, failing to make turns for the first time since 2003.
The Copper Mountain, Colo., groomer notched his 2,993rd and final day on Tuesday, an hour after he was diagnosed with a serious case of cardiac arrhythmia -- essentially an irregular heartbeat -- which put him at risk of cardiac arrest. Fully aware of Hertrich's world-record streak, a doctor at the Copper medical clinic ordered him not to ski another run.
"They said, 'You need to take an ambulance to the hospital,' " Hertrich recounted in an interview from his hospital bed Wednesday night. "I told the doctor, 'I'm not a very good listener.' Against his will, I went home, put my ski boots on and went up for one last run."
After his run, which kept the streak alive through midnight Wednesday, Hertrich met his mother and drove to the hospital, where he was soon placed in intensive care. As of Wednesday night his condition had stabilized, but he was still on blood thinners and did not know when he'd be released.
The problem began to show in the days leading up to Hertrich's diagnosis. "I was starting to have some physical issues, where I was getting really fat really fast," Hertrich said. "All of a sudden, my pants that I just wore yesterday don't fit. The next day, my belly's hanging out. It was extremely difficult to put my skis on because I couldn't bend down far enough to do it. I just went, 'this is nuts. I need to get this checked out.' "
Hertrich said when he last weighed himself a year ago, he weighed 220 pounds. Tuesday, the scale read 265.
"I always said it would be a hospital bed that would stop this streak," said Hertrich, who embarked on the streak unintentionally after seeing a plaque honoring Jackson Hole skiers who'd notched 6 million vertical feet in a season. After he passed 7 million vertical in the spring of 2004, he pressed on.
The jovial, German-born freeheeler persevered through a separated shoulder, numerous bruised ribs, minus-50-degree wind chills and logistical hurdles that would have thwarted a lesser man. He attracted media coverage around the world for his devotion to his streak, following winter from Colorado to Oregon to South America as the seasons changed. Along the way he became famous for skiing a pre-dawn run in Oregon each fall, then flying to Chile and heading straight to the slopes the following day. When asked how long he planned to keep skiing, he always said he'd do it as long as he could.
"In 15 more minutes, the streak's going to be over," he said glumly Wednesday night. "I'm bummed I missed 3,000 days by a week, but whatever. I'm proud I made it this far. Every year was a challenge. When I look at the whole picture, it doesn't seem like anything. But when you break down the years, it's amazing. I really don't think anyone will ever attempt it."