02/03/1997 at 01:00 AM EST
MISSY GIOVE, 25, Mountain Bike Racer
Nothing about Missy "Missile" Giove suggests a cover girl future: not her hair (a black-and-red tangle), not her tattoos (tribal bands circling each ankle; the Road Runner on her left calf), not the silver nose ring in her left nostril. Even so, Giove (pronounced gee-OH-vee) has become the poster girl of downhill mountain-bike racing. She won the 1996 Women's World Cup Series Championship, is currently the top-ranked woman internationally in her sport and, with her prize money plus car and bike endorsements, earns an annual income that is said to approach $300,000. Giove is fearless, profane, openly gay and, after 33 broken bones, tougher than road gravel.
First person: "It's an adrenaline rush," Giove says of racing. "If you weren't afraid, then it wouldn't be fun."
Second opinion: "The body mends," says father-manager Ben, unconcerned about spills. "She wasn't raised a sissy."
Odyssey: An only child, Giove grew up in New York, Vermont and New Jersey; repeatedly expelled from grammar school for fighting, and once for turning a hose on a nun ("My parents realized early I wasn't the type of child they could control"). Quit Plymouth State College in New Hampshire in 1992 and moved to Durango, Colo., where she lived alone in "a piece-of-crap tent and a Star Wars sleeping bag" for a year.
First serious biking: As a teenager, while delivering Chinese food in Manhattan; began mountain racing in 1990, turning pro the following year.
Vitals: 5'5" tall, 130 lbs.; now shares a remote mountain chalet in Durango with fellow racer Elke Brutsaert, 28.
Rap sheet: Four arrests, she says (among the charges: "borrowing" a police officer's cap and "accidentally" hitting another officer with a skateboard).
Résumé: Guest host on MTV Sports; founder of Team Amazon, a charity that aids struggling fellow competitors and donates bikes to underprivileged young girls.
Superstitions: Before a big race, sprinkles herself with ashes from her dead pet dog Ruffian and from a close friend who died in 1995.
Up next: Racing till she's at least 30: "Then I want to go to naturopathic medical school and get into holistic medicine."