I know bullriders and hockey players and NFL vets, and I'm here
to tell you: Missy Giove is the toughest athlete I've ever met.
Not long ago the Missile announced her retirement from downhill
mountain biking. Her absence makes the sports world a duller, if
slightly safer, place.
It wasn't so much the races and the titles she won--21 National
Off-Road Biking Association (NORBA) victories, 13 World Cup wins,
three NORBA overall crowns, two World Cup overalls and the 1994
world championship--as the way she won them. Bombing down the
mountain with the carcass of her late pet piranha flopping from a
string around her neck, the ashes of her deceased dog (and later,
of certain friends) sprinkled in her bra, the Missile made the
edge of the envelope her permanent address.
Beneath the two-tone Mohawk was a delightfully deep thinker. The
teetotaling Queens, N.Y.-born Giove, 32, is a self-taught master
of nutrition, alternative medicine and physiology. A
"high-performance kinesiologist" and a trainer for Trixter, a San
Francisco-based fitness company, she mixes advice on how to lead
a richer, fuller life ("Taking care of yourself emotionally and
mentally is very important") with maternal hectoring ("After you
crash, you've gotta throw your helmet out. I don't care what it
cost. Go buy a new one or don't do the sport").
When your path to enlightenment is the sickest line down the
hill, your medical-insurance carrier will come to know you on a
first-name basis. So it was with Giove, who suggests, when asked
to catalog her major injuries, "Let's start at my feet and work
up." The next quarter hour is given over to a breezy cataloging
of her traumas: "They want to do surgery on both my ankles....
I've gotten at least three avulsion fractures, where the ligament
pulls off a little piece of bone.... Every year for the past nine
I've torn one of my MCLs.... I've broken both tibia and both
fibia, twice." She looks on the bright side. "No femurs, though."
She shattered her pelvis in a '94 crash in New Mexico that left
her in a wheelchair. "Broke both of my iliac crests all the way
through," she says.
Beg pardon? "Iliac crests--you know, those big wings under your
ass. I broke both, all the way down, like lightning bolts."
She came out of the wheelchair and won the world championship in
Vail, Colo., the same year. But we digress. Giove counts eight
cracked ribs, five broken wrists, bruised lungs, a ruptured
spleen, two fractured vertebrae (C1, L5), two broken legs, two
fractured heels, two broken knee caps and a cracked sternum. She
ticks off five major concussions--"The ones where I was knocked
out and came to in the hospital or came to and had to go to the
And there was the whole brain hemorrhage thing. At the bottom of
the course at the World Cup championships in Vail in 2001, Giove
cartwheeled off her bike, whipping her head into the ground. Her
brain bled. She had a migraine for nearly three months. "If I
moved too much, I'd throw up," she says. Giove was told she had
to stop racing.
She did. For six months. But when the migraines went away, she
went for some cross-country mountain-bike rides. "Then I got on
my slalom bike, then I went downhilling, and I was going really
f-----' fast," Giove says. As long as she felt that good on the
bike, how was she supposed to not race?
All was going well until that blustery day in Slovenia in '02,
when she was blown off her bike in midair, free-fell 30 feet and
suffered a puncture wound. "I could put my finger behind my lower
lip and it came out under my chin," she recalls. She intended to
race a limited schedule last year but dislocated a shoulder, then
broke a wrist and said, basically, The hell with it.
She may show up for a race or two this season. But these days,
Giove is into freeriding. And what, Missy, is that? "Say, as
you're driving on the highway and you see some cliffs to your
right, you park the car, get out, climb up and go where you wanna
go. You take some nasty lines. It's downhilling, but with bigger
obstacles. We might build a jump, shoot across some logs 15 feet
high, drop off 'em.
"This is where I think our sport is going. Not that racing's
going to be dead, but it's a little flat right now."
Without the Missile, it just got a little flatter.
COLOR PHOTO: SILVIA OTTE BIG WHEEL Despite frequent crashes, Giove ruled her sport.
In her career, the Missile made THE EDGE OF THE ENVELOPE her
The next SI Adventure will appear in the June 28 issue.