The Life & Times of Missy Giove | Higher Ground
Missy Giove … in the true sense of the word she is one of, if not the, most iconic downhill mountain bike riders of all time...
Missy Giove … in the true sense of the word she is one of, if not the, most iconic downhill mountain bike riders of all time. She epitomized the sport in its adolescence, the original wild child.
From Dirt Issue 138 - August 2013
Words by Ian Collins. Photos by Ian Collins.
Her influence on the sport had more impact than Shaun Palmer's unorthodox clothing choices given the times. Not to discredit him, but it really was heavier. Broader than that. She set the tone for what it truly meant to push the physical boundaries of bike, rider and gravity in the sport. Predating him Missy was brash, loud and hell bent in spandex and riding underdeveloped equipment. She recovered from savage injuries and came back for more radiating pure grit. She wasn't just ragged and out of control though, we are celebrating a serious athlete who was dedicated to her craft. Her accomplishments carry the clout to prove it. In 1994 she won World Championships in Vail, Colorado, on home turf a mere six months after stepping out of a wheelchair. She is still one of the winningest riders of all time with eleven World Cup victories under her belt. In many of these wins she toppled the great Anne Caroline Chausson during her reign of terror. For about a decade, Giove was a constant podium threat amongst the likes of the aforementioned GOAT – Chausson, Leigh Donovan, Giovanna Bonazzi, Mercedes Gonzalez, Sabrina Jonnier, Marla Streb and more. With her eccentric, outward persona and out of control riding style and physical appearance she was tailor made for Reebok commercials, MTV airtime, the X–Games, and massive endorsements from major corporations. Add into that formula her propensity to decimate a good portion of the men's elite field on any given Sunday and you have the legend that is ‘The Missile’.>>
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In a sport and industry where certain legends can linger and milk short–lived careers, insiders tend to keep tabs on the founders of the sport. Some time has passed since Missy's arrest and she's been flying under the radar. She is pretty well out of contact with the bike world these days. She always was the black sheep anyway; one of a very short list of riders suspended from competition by NORBA for ‘behaviour’. At one point that even took her out of contention for World Cup competition. Many are curious about just what she's been up to the last few years, and I'm sure they'd love to hear an account directly from the source. A comeback story would be even more scintillating, but don't hold your breath, at least for the immediate future. Until Missy's supervised release is up she won't be travelling without court permission.
Anyway. It started out with a phone number from the editor and a simple “good luck" after I’d wrapped up the Myles Rockwell interview. I figured she'd be a bit wily and isn't keen on talking to the press for obvious reasons. After some thought about what to say I called and left a message. No response. Two weeks go by and I decide to just send a text message. I tried to avoid sounding like a complete knob, but asked her again if she's interested in meeting. Nothing. I wait a few more days and send one last Hail Mary text out of desperation. She replies right away and says she wants to talk. Holy hell, I couldn't believe it. This may actually happen.
Later that week we talked and set up an interview. After two hours chatting on the phone I felt at ease, but it dawned on me that her personality was much like I expected. Fast talker, tangents, intense stories, extroverted... she immediately began spilling her guts and volunteered personal information and told stories most would keep tightly guarded. We began discussing our roots; both New Yorkers but coming from drastically different backgrounds. She grew up in Astoria Queens, I grew up on a small dairy farm upstate. Her dad was a bookie, mine was a farmer. It didn't matter, we clicked. Laying out the details, I told her I realised what she'd endured legally and that I didn't want to catalyse any repercussions from sloppy or selfish journalism. Missy laughed. In her own words she made it clear that I needn't soft talk her. She assured me I'd end up with a totally candid, no holds barred interview. Seemingly unapologetic, far from ashamed and nothing to hide... perfect. After some stories, we cut to the chase and sorted where we could get a discreet shred going for a couple days on the east coast. I was giddy and ready to get away from the sandy, homogenized So Cal terrain where I live now. I looked forward to an adventure rallying in the woods with an idol from my teenage years. Surreal. Seventeen some odd years ago I was heckling Monk (her long time mechanic) at Mount Snow, asking where she was so she I could get her autograph.
A couple of months flew by and before I knew it, I boarded a plane to go hang with ‘The Missile’ for three days of Appalachian shredding. I touched down and we met outside of her high–rise apartment in a touristy east coast town reeking of New England vacationers. Its residents were mostly displaced military families and a fair few retirees. Not at all the type of town I had pictured her in. After waiting a bit in the lobby she came around the corner out of breath with a casual limp and invited me up for a tour. Jeans sagging, sporadic tattoos – some new and clean, some old and faded. At least four of them said ‘Kristen’. Much to my surprise, her hair was long and wavy, obscured by a flat billed hat and big sunglasses. Removing her glasses she revealed sweet and soulful eyes that were focused but seemed wary. They have seen more than most do in ten lifetimes.
What seemed like twenty something floors up we arrived at her sprawled out apartment. One hallway was full of trophies in a glass case. Nothing else revealed anything thrilling until – yes, out on the balcony her old Foes was waiting. Although it's 10 years old, out dated and barely functional, Missy still shreds on it without a care in the world. Realising that made me feel like a priss for fussing over my current bike; I need to be humbled and grounded occasionally. More snooping revealed a skateboard and a surfboard. We talked surfing and ‘relaxed’ a bit out on her balcony overlooking the Atlantic Ocean before packing the car for a long drive into the mountains for some downhilling.
Her wife Kristen headed up with us along with her son Shay. Both were equally stoked to get out of town and into the woods. Their dynamic was interesting: a solid couple that balanced each other out well. Missy's nervous ticks and somewhat highly strung, neurotic tendencies were eased by Kristen's cool, calm demeanour. Kristen is a successful attorney who runs her own firm. As straight laced, professional and mellow as she is, Kristen has an adventurous side. She used to compete in some equestrian competition ‘til a horse jumping accident laid her up. The couple has a ‘five year plan’ hoping to get to a quieter part of California where Missy can enjoy her outdoor lifestyle and some other offerings of the west coast. Kristen is hoping to get Shay near Silicon Valley and the tech industry. I could picture them near Santa Cruz.
We got to the mountain, grabbed our rentals and just decided to knock some runs out, let loose and get the blood flowing after the long car ride. I was eager to see how she would fare after all these years and the injuries had taken their toll. At the age of 41, she still held it wide open. I knew Missy would still rip, but what I saw exceeded and boggled my mind. On the fast wide open sections she would take ragged inside lines drifting at speed with both feet on the pedals, looking forward, sitting up. Exiting with speed. In the woods she hucked and doubled up sections constantly, landing on greasy rooted backsides and off–camber bits completely unfazed. Her trail vision was sneaky and tactical, blindly picking up on the types of lines people seek out on course walks. Most were the type of off–the–beaten path choices I only noticed because she was ahead of me riding them. These split second decisions still came second nature to her. It dawned on me that this was an elite athlete, and that hard wiring doesn't go away. Her mind still thought three turns ahead and nothing between her ears was telling her to slow down.
We shared a few warm up runs and I grabbed my camera hoping get some gold. I didn't know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised by how eager she was to ‘get the shot’. After each section Missy would charge back up claiming she could hit it faster or make her form look better. In one turn I timidly asked if she could keep her foot up drifting out. “No problem" she said nonchalantly. Even when seasoned downhillers get into a big drift it really isn't a conscious decision whether they end up dabbing a foot or not. Impressive. The second day of riding and shooting she rode in the rain ‘til it was dark, with no gloves and tinted goggles, in a haze and sending it until I ran out of light and threw in the towel. It was refreshing that I didn't have to ask her to hit sections ‘one more time’ and feel like a beggar like I would on most shoots.
After the dust settled (or should I say tacky dirt) we got things packed up and started blasting back through the mountains, pinning it straight through the night ‘til dawn and into the airport where I narrowly made my flight. This is where I started grilling Missy, hoping to get to the core of her complex character.
Dirt: Since your arrest you've been quiet. What've you been getting into for work and leisure?
Above all I miss the pack of wolves I got to explore countries with and drift down mountains while racing all those years. Raging together, for sheeezzz! I love and miss you!
OK, so we want to hear it from the source. What happened? Your version, not the rumours and whatnot we read in the newspaper or online.
Well, when I knew I was burned but hadn't been taken down yet I drove the weed to a river near a kayak rental. I wanted to blaze outta there so bad. I had thoughts of taking my RM125 out of the trailer, throwing in a kayak and paddling it to a remote area and moto'ing the hell outta there. But I knew I had to stay and face it... so I stayed, rolled a big phat joint and smoked the shit outta it while lying in a lawn chair watching the clouds and the river float by and thought of my girl while a plane kept circling overhead. When they finally swarmed in I thought I was in f–king Star Wars cause there were 40 D.E.A. vests everywhere! I made a joke as I got my rights read to me and being cuffed and said, ‘so am I being punk'd’. Definitely no one laughed.
That's a pretty wild way to go out. Why'd you get involved in the first place? Was it the money, the thrill, desperation? We know you're an adrenaline junkie but that's pretty intense.
I can tell you that I wasn't doing it for the thrill. Because of my involvement, I had to live a very secret life for years. I did it to help somebody from my past who was in a very desperate situation. I know from experience different people get in the game for different reasons. Everyone has their own. And once you're in deep, it's hard to get out.
After hanging out with you and Kristen, I saw your marriage is rock solid. Having your wife by your side after your legal issues must have helped you get through the rough patches, no?
Kristen is everything to me. She has been the most supportive and loving wife. She stood by my side through everything. I could have never imagined the love that we have. She is my heaven, my nirvana.
What does the future hold for you? Anything in particular that you're intently focused on or are aspiring towards?
I am still in love with DH! I love how filmers and photographers have captured so many innovators out there who have the imagination and the fearlessness to think of and try new things and evolve, create, and re–imagine outdoor sports. And that things like Red Bull TV are putting it out there. I want to be a part of this process – whether it is by filming these people doing what they love and pushing boundaries or by putting a tribe/team together of people from each of these evolving sports to travel, film, compete or exhibit, and just support each other and party together. I feel this can spark people's passion for life and sharing themselves. As for other interests, I am interested in protecting the environment and would like to put some time into some humanitarian projects. I wanna be outside planting gardens, digging wells, painting seals in Alaska to keep poachers from killing them, or helping refugees to safety in genocide wars. The kids I put in a get away car may decide to stay there after they drive with me. One love! One world! One heart!
I love the collective idea behind enduro where you chill with your friends on rides in between the DH's. Make it a big party for days! For me it’s a dope addition but nothing can replace straight up DH. I'd rather do it as a party and not a race.
[part title="The Life & Times of Missy Giove - Page 4..."]
I love everything about MTB and I'd be down for helping some of the dreamers pin it and have their days! I love the intensity of the races and the mental states the riders need to attain. Creativity with line choices is always fun and hooking that up for aspiring riders would certainly be gratifying. I'd also love to jump in the commentary box with Rob Warner sometime and get him going on a good rant!
While we rode, you mentioned the idea of doing some filming, shooting and wanting to ride some remote, out of bounds stuff. Anything in the works?
I would be so down to do a film in new locations while I still wanna smash it. I also want to be behind the lens and do some film projects that involve music, art, other big mountain outdoor sports and humanitarian issues.
You were on form when we rode! Although I couldn't notice, you say your injuries have taken a toll. Do you need any surgeries?
I spent so much of my life all injured and f–ked up that I can't remember what it feels like to not have it by my side 24/7. Pain has been a huge teacher for me though. I am a better person cause it deepened my compassion, so I can't trade in my experiences, but I eventually will need back surgery.
We know it's a grocery list, but just how many broken bones and concussions have you endured over the years? You're known for being a savage, and recovering from some huge get–offs, but on paper?
I broke my pelvis with over 17 inches of fracture, crushed it moto'ing. I had a ruptured spleen, a broken wrist, and concussion all at the same time. ICU for a long time, then a wheel chair for six months. I won worlds 12 months later. I still I have bad back and neck pain 24/7. I suffered a bad brain haemorrhage at World Champs 2001. Dude, my headaches were so bad for three months that I had to find a higher ground because it was so difficult to live through. I have a seizure disorder now and it affected my moods. I'm a little more manic than I naturally am. My highs are higher and my lows are lower. I've tried medication, but it didn't really help. I've learned to deal with it. When I do get sad, I mostly get sad about missing loved ones that have passed. My dad, all of my animals that have passed, relatives and friends. I try to remind myself that I just need to celebrate their lives and what they brought to me in this world and carry that on. As for my seizures, they are a bit sketchy but it’s all good. As for breaks: well over 30. The last big one was my leg in two places and it blew out my knee real bad. Tibia/fibula on one side, femur on the other. I waited and went to the hospital a week later cause I couldn't go when it happened. At the time I was in the middle of this deal out west and didn't want record of where I was. I was skiing when I did it, so I took off my ski boots with the skis still on and left them on the mountain. I got a limo to pick me up, rolled a fat one up and shot gunned a shit ton of beers to deal with it. Never got my skis or boots back!
That's pretty bonkers. Coming back and winning Worlds is quite the testament to your grit. Are there any particular ideologies or religious views that you hold close?
I believe in only love! I had a near death experience while having a seizure and kept leaving my body. I thought I was dying and had to go through a process of accepting my own death. The first time it was so scary to let go but I surrendered myself to the understanding that this was just a body and not who I was. I stopped breathing, which I was struggling to do. Like clothes you put on everyday. So I left my suit on the couch and I travelled to other worlds and went to what I experienced as existence in itself and there was only love. Nothing else existed, and I had the understanding instantly that this is what created all forms of life. Love is life, we are all one. As for stuff my wife says I should keep to myself: I see and pet Centaurs and Pegasus and two suns in the sky sometimes with over lapping dimensions, vibrating molecules. The air often looks like the ocean to me. I remembered that I flew dragons and the tattoo on my right shoulder was a dragon that helped me save lives. I flew some with a few of my friends I rode downhill with. We were Archangels together. Maybe one of you will remember... if you do, then get a tattoo of your dragon. I was a little disappointed that I didn't see Jesus with a vaporizer walking on water up there, ha ha.
Most of us first saw you at age 17. Now that you're 41 years old can you glean any particular insight how you live your day to day life? Any certain mottos, Missy's code of ethics?
You have some pretty incredible stories...has your memory suffered from concussions and haemorrhages?
I was in Japan for a race and I was hanging in Osaka for a few days and I went for a little shred alone and drifted off the edge of a trail on pee gravel and landed in trees that saved my fall but I gave myself amnesia. So I didn't remember who the hell I was and where I was supposed to be. I rode into the city and ended up at an arcade and spent all the money I had on me apparently. Went home with a local Japanese friend I just made and slept on a tatami mat, eating squid and miso for breakfast saying “miso Japanese!" Until I kinda just woke up and remembered my life and where I was supposed to be. Four days had past.
I also had a bad case of amnesia doing some gnarly ridge trails on the moto in the New Mexico high desert and didn't remember anything about my life again for close to a month. I even remember seeing the moto on the ground and realizing I had a helmet on my head so I must have ridden it but I didn't know I knew how to ride it. Finally my friend rolled up on her moto and I asked her if I was in France and if I knew how to ride the moto. She assured me I knew how and to get on it cause it was like a 10 mile trip back to the pick–up. I was supposed to follow her back but I kept taking off in different directions and she had to herd me back to the truck to drop my dumb ass off with no short or long term memory. When I emerged from my mental vacation a month later I had the experience written all over my hands, etc. My family showed me film of myself everyday for a month and I told them “that ain't me and I'm not doing any of that". Then I just woke up one morning, remembered everything and wanted to go smash out some shuttle runs that day, ha ha. Other than that I'd say my memory is pretty f–king good.
This may seem redundant, but what are your views on marijuana? Do you deem it to be a performance enhancer? Should it be a banned substance?
I definitely advocate herb. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been dealing it. I have my own opinion and many personal experiences with it. Personally, I know why it's only a plus for me, aside from the legal aspects of course. There are healthy ways to use marijuana (vaporizer and ingestion).
Plants are genius and we have so much to learn from them. Millions of years in evolution. We have a society that generates and perpetuates fear and is so limiting. It's used for control based on greed. Other things like mushrooms and cactus have been highly persecuted with no legitimate cause. It's ridiculous that it is illegal. These plants don't promote consumerism, greed or separatism. But communes don't make capitalists happy. Such an asset to our society… medicine, fuel, clothing, paper, even rope. And a great stress free recreational time! The negative environmental and health impacts these replaced industries caused are terrible. Pharmaceuticals with so many side affects. The cotton industry who simply was in bed with the oil industry, nylon, etc. tobacco/alcohol companies who are poisoning people and causing health issues. Walmart is the biggest drug dealing middle man I know... of a bunch of different drugs that can and do kill people and make them not as nice as they really are That's f–king sad. Someone’s got to say it. OK. End of stoney rant. Peace to you all! “Live your truth snowflakes!" What's right is right! Billie Jean movie reference.
So you mentioned you surf a lot and I knew you went pretty big on skis. Your style oozed moto, so we all know you probably kill it with a throttle, but did you ever or will you ever compete in any of those sports?
I love soul sports in nature. I surf all the time. I have been backcountry skiing and boarding my whole life and need these things. I competed in three events in the X–Games all in one year. Snowboarded for Burton, skied for Salomon, sort of like Napalm. But I really just like big mountain powder skiing/boarding. I'm getting into wind surfing and kite surfing cause I live near OBX and it's killer for that. You can see tons of sharks out there! As far as moto goes, I love it but not as much as the others cause I don't feel as connected to the nature because of the noise. I love rallying minis in the woods with drunk friends. But I typically like to freeride in the desert/high desert, Crusty's type shit. Creative natural hits and arroyos. When I moved back east I did a few of the GNCC races on a clapped out two–stroke RM125, hung over, on the breakfast of champs. I took a couple hits off an apple and then I ate it, then raced for three hours. I passed 376 dudes and got second in pro chick's class with three crashes.
You recently had a taste of modern equipment and rode a bike with a 63º headangle and a sub 14" bottom bracket. Game changing isn't it?
Oh man, these new bikes are so sick! Hats off to the geniuses that engineered all that stuff. I couldn't believe the coin people were dropping on bikes. Then I got on one and now I'm saying, I can't believe money can buy you that much fun! I can't stop thinking about what a blast I had. So many new line choices open up. Your reaction time is quicker cause the bike is lighter and more manageable. I came off of a 48.5lb bike. Now I just want to get a new bike and smash the shit out of some of these new trails with some friends. I don't feel as limited. My bike was tight and she did me right but it's a 2002 or 2003, feelin' me?
So what do you think of the courses these days? Considering how much more competent the bikes are, don't you think some of them are a bit tame?
The tracks are fairly legit. I'd like to see wider courses with lots of line choices. I would love to do a few WC races again just to drift on some of these new courses on these new bikes. Val di Sole (#1 choice), Hafjell, Norway (#2 choice), also the Northwest (Oregon) would be a place I'd want to see a WC land in the US. The trails they build look so natural and technical but still flowy. I love finding backsides on sketchy roots and rocks to just be an artist in the moment. Plans suck, they feel so limiting!
I'm sure you have tons of old stories about sponsors, pits and shenanigans. Are there any in particular that we should hear about?
I'm gonna throw it way back. I wanna give a quick shout out to one of my first sponsors I ever had that didn't know they sponsored me. Thanks for my first pair of riding shoes – Specialized’s hot from Putney Bike Shop. I stole 'em and put my soleless hiking boots in the box. The duct tape wouldn't work anymore. Sorry man, I rode in 'em every day. I wore a wool jersey and raced a slalom finals run in it at Mt. Snow NORBA one year for you. Dope shop in a cool old barn in Vermont! Thanks for not calling the cops if you knew. I love you guys. Sorry!
After letting Missy's truly cosmic stories percolate through my brain one question lingered, 'where have the big personalities gone?' Who exudes this calibre of star power, charisma and flair these days? Nowadays most of the key players are pretty tame. Enthusiasts get riled up by riders who drift once in a while or throw whips into a race run. Online pontificators carry on banter over who's cooler based off of whether a racer uses clips or flats, but there aren't any true enigmas like we once had. This shouldn't come off as cynical, but just an observation about where things could be headed. We've seen some class acts come and go, Peaty and Cedric Gracia are still adding more zest to the sport than most of the young guns. Chris Kovarik, Sam Hill, Nathan Rennie and others were hectic, wild guys in their heyday, but none of them, nor anyone else for that matter, can even carry Missy's bags in terms of personality, she was a rock star in the sport.
After parting ways and getting on the plane it dawned on me… is this sport getting watered down by gluten free diets, concerns over who has more Twitter followers, and 33lb carbon bikes being heated in tents before race runs? Are the ‘gonzo’ days really over? While we've seen some amazing advancements that allow us all to have more fun and go faster, a lot of these changes may be for the worse. They could serve as a distraction from what really matters – idols that stir the pot, take huge risks and captivate fans. One thing is certain, it's imperative that we continue to see some raw energy and attitude if we want this sport to continue flourishing.