Missy Giove was halfway through unloading 410 pounds of high-grade California pot from a trailer into a garage surrounded by dense woods in upstate New York when she spotted the tracking device in the trailer wall. "I knew we were fucked," she remembers. Panicked, she sped off in a white F-150 pickup dragging the trailer with hundreds of pounds of weed still inside.
Giove was on the outskirts of Albany, not far from the Vermont border, where Saratoga Lake links to the Hudson River. She had a custom mountain bike and dirt bike in the trailer and contemplated an escape down the river and through the woods in hopes of losing the surveillance plane that was already circling above. Her chances were better than most. Giove has won three national downhill-mountain-biking events, two World Cup titles, and two world championships.
"I wanted to run so bad. But at that point, they knew who I was," says Giove. "I got rid of some phones I had on me, rolled a big fat joint, lay in a lounge chair, and watched the plane for, like, three hours above me – whirling, whirling, whirling."
The Feds had learned of Giove's pot-dealing operation four days earlier, when Illinois state police pulled over a 26-year-old woman whom Giove paid $3,000 to move the pot from California to New York. The driver told the DEA everything, including that she had made the cross-country trip at least three times in recent months. Each time, Giove would meet her at a Barnes & Noble in upstate New York, and take the truck and trailer to a secret location where its contents would be broken into smaller, more manageable shipments. To avoid jail, the driver agreed to set up her boss by delivering the trailer with a GPS device wedged in the wall.
Eventually, dozens of armed agents wearing bulletproof vests materialized at the kayak center where Giove had parked. She asked if she was getting punked. Nobody laughed. They found more than 200 pounds of weed in the trailer. A few miles away, at the home of Giove's business partner, a scruffy 30-year-old named Eric Canori, agents uncovered more than a million dollars in cash, foreign bank statements, maps of storage containers around the country, dozens of pounds of weed, and a box of gold bars.
Five years after retiring as one of the most decorated female cyclists ever and among the first commercially successful extreme athletes, Missy "the Missile" Giove was facing the possibility of 40 years in a federal lockup for being the main transporter in a multimillion-dollar pot operation.In her life as a downhill-mountain-bike racer – bombing down fire roads at speeds up to 60 mph and plowing through root-snarled chutes – Giove was the best-known and highest-paid athlete of her kind, thanks to an all-out (some would say reckless) race style. Her wild racing also led to plenty of injuries: She sustained at least 10 concussions and more than three dozen broken bones, including her heels, pelvis, and several vertebrae. "There were times I had a concussion and just didn't go to the doctor," she says now. "But, like, when I had a broken leg, a concussion, and a broken wrist – yeah, then I'd end up at the hospital."
Giove's willingness to race while injured caught up to her at the 2001 world championship in Vail. The day before, in practice, she carried too much speed off a drop, dislocated her shoulder, and knocked herself out on the handlebars. Against all reason, she raced the next day. Toward the bottom of the run, she again went over the handlebars "at the top of a fucking super-steep section," she says. The resulting brain hemorrhage sent her into a months-long daze of blinding pain. "I didn't want to open my eyes for, like, three months," she recalls.
In the years that followed, Giove suffered seizures and chronic headaches. She had always smoked pot recreationally, but her intake soared as she looked for an alternative to prescription painkillers. "Weed definitely helped," she says. "It was the smarter choice for pain control."
When life on the race circuit ended, Giove didn't have a retirement plan or steady medical insurance. But she did have friends with large quantities of pot that needed to be moved, and she jumped into the new venture with enthusiasm. "My first drug deal was 40 pounds of weed. Go big or go home, you know?" she says. "I knew that when I started, it was a commitment. You have to be comfortable with a lot of danger."
In those early days, Giove logged thousands of miles driving around the country, selling weed to small-time dealers. Sometimes she'd be instructed to collect bags of cash from a garbage can in the backyard of a suburban home. Other times she'd ride a dirt bike deep into the woods to deliver heaps of pot grown by "very talented hippies in the hills of California."
Around 2006, two years after she stopped racing, Giove linked up with Canori, a young Californian who built koi ponds in people's backyards on the side and had access to a pipeline of exotic pot strains, including God's Gift, Blue Dream, and OG Kush. She went from moving dozens of pounds per trip to hundreds of pounds. Giove's status as a world-famous extreme athlete was the perfect cover for someone who'd be driving consistently with a locked trailer in tow.
On a monthly basis, Giove made trips to a small apartment in Marin County. There, Canori's workers would load the trailer with custom-built, seven-foot-long wooden boxes packed with dry ice and weed. Giove's dirt bike, mountain bikes, and racing gear were then packed on top to create the illusion of an extreme athlete on the road. Each trip netted her upwards of $30,000, minus what she paid to couriers. But it wasn't just the money that appealed to Giove. "Honestly, I felt like Santa Claus," she says. "I was able to bring people medicine that had personally helped me. I was fucking great at selling weed."When Giove got nabbed, she had little choice but to work with prosecutors (almost immediately, she told the DEA agents she "wanted to assist in any way" she could to lessen her sentence). Because of her cooperation, she was given six months' house arrest, five years' probation, and 500 hours of community service. Canori wasn't so lucky. While out on bail awaiting trial, he was caught picking up a bag filled with more than $400,000 in cash, triggering allegations of money laundering. He got 30 months of jail time for drug trafficking, which he's now riding out in federal prison.
Four years after her arrest, Giove, 41, sits on an oversize white sofa in an ocean-view penthouse apartment in Virginia Beach, where she is serving out her three years left of probation. She's with her wife of four years, Kristen (they took a second honeymoon in Niagara Falls the night before her final court date), and is sporting a black-and-white Vans mesh hat and a Brooklyn Nets jersey that reveals dark tufts of armpit hair. Large black tattoos of varying fonts drape her sculpted torso. Gone are her bleached dreadlocks of the 1990s, replaced by lush brown curls.
Giove's day-to-day routine doesn't exactly break the terms of her probation, but it does show she hasn't slowed down much. The first order of business for the weekend is to buy Giove new flip-flops, because she broke her current pair while drunk the night before. At brunch, over a margarita with a Corona dumped in, she debates whether to take out a surfboard, a paddleboard, or a skimboard for the day (she decides on body surfing). After roasting on the beach for a few hours, we bomb around town in her topless '89 Jeep. We seek out a bald eagle's nest at a nearby state park, observing, with a rare moment of silence, a baby eagle, and soon stop at the liquor store for a bottle of tequila.
Giove talks about how she'd love to race one more season despite orders from neurologists that she remain retired from the sport, probation terms that prohibit her from leaving the state, and the fact that she still suffers from chronic headaches and the occasional seizure. She admits that it's an imperfect ambition and knows the sport is dominated by youth – last year's female world champ was 22. Even though she is not actively training for a comeback, Giove insists that on the right course on the right day, she'd be a serious contender. "I have the speed," she says. "They say I shouldn't hit my head ever again, but I'm gonna have to live my life."
Few professional downhillers can parlay their skills into a lifelong career. And while Giove leveraged her wild-child image into a hefty partnership with the Volvo-Cannondale team in the 1990s and appeared in Reebok commercials as well as on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, she was unable to keep the contracts coming. After retiring, Giove could have gone to work for a big brand, but daily marketing meetings and hawking products at trade shows isn't work that aligns with Giove's temperament. "I've been in this sport for 28 years and can tell you the hardest part about downhill racing is that once you're at the top, you're done," says Steve Gravenites, an industry vet who was Giove's team mechanic for several seasons.
As the afternoon winds down, Giove wonders aloud whether she'll be called in for a random urine test that week and complains about an upcoming shift at a nearby bike shop, where she works to keep her probation officer satisfied. "If I could ever convince my probation officer to let me leave Virginia, I think I could go to the world championship and have a serious shot," she says. "It's really fun to be on the total edge."