FOR many months, Penny Taylor's world was white. A cool blanket of snow covered the footpaths and roads where she lived, as well as her house and the local basketball stadium. To fight the cold, she'd pull on her tracksuit, then another three layers and a coat. "The coat was like a sleeping bag," she said.
Taylor would trek through the white powder, in temperatures of minus-25 degrees, to train and play games for her Russian club, Ekaterinburg. "It was an unusual lifestyle," Taylor admitted. Then, at the end of the season, she'd swap the chill of Russia to play in the world's best league, the WNBA.
But recently she realised there was something missing. It broke her heart that she was distanced from family, friends and sometimes her husband, Rodrigo Gil. So, after nearly seven years of playing abroad, she's decided to sacrifice her lucrative Phoenix Mercury WNBA contract, worth more than $100,000, firstly to be closer to her family in Melbourne but also to focus on her commitments to the national team, the Opals.
"That was the hardest part, knowing what you are missing out on," Taylor said. "That's the reason why I'm not going back to the WNBA. I need time at home. I need time with my family and friends and time with my husband."
Here's what she's giving up: Taylor was named as one of only two women in BRW's list of the top 50 Australian sports earners last year. Her income of $1.1 million was second only to Opals teammate and WNBA star Lauren Jackson ($1.2 million).
After enduring 11 months away from home every year, Taylor is now enjoying being around her family and friends, and immersing herself in the Opals' Olympic preparations.
Taylor and her national teammates know they are on the brink of an unprecedented opportunity. After winning silver medals in the past two Games, never before have the team felt so sure that gold is within their grasp. With so many Opals playing internationally, the reigning world champions are a formidable unit.
"I really feel we have such a great team at the moment," Taylor said. "Belinda Snell has just taken off. She was in the All Star five in the Euroleague final four. Kristi Harrower is one of the best point guards in world.
"Obviously Lauren - we don't have to say much about her. I think she's playing the best basketball she's ever played at the moment. Then the other girls have been playing in countries like Italy and France. If anything, playing overseas makes us stronger. Aside from the personal experience, it just gives the team an incredible boost … Everyone is in the right position to take that gold medal."
Jackson, the Opals captain, will not join her Australian teammates until the end of July - at a holding camp in Hong Kong just before the Olympics.
Although the Opals play in different pockets around the world, Taylor believes when they come together they are a committed unit.
"To take gold, everyone has to be totally committed and focussed and I really think that's the condition we are in," she said.
"The energy we have at the moment and the determination we have really shows. You see girls diving around the court and getting really physical and really giving 100 per cent. I love seeing that and I think other people appreciate that, too."
Taylor arrived from overseas two days ago and was still dealing with the effects of jet lag. She's glad to be back in the comfort of her home town of Melbourne and to be resting for a while.
She and Gil have bought a block of land in Melbourne's northern suburbs and are building their dream house. Although she misses playing at the top level, Taylor is happy just to settle down.
"I look forward to starting my life here now after being overseas for six to seven years," Taylor said. "I feel like I've done my time over there. As much as I love playing - I love my life here as well."