Niki Taylor can still be found awake most days at 4 a.m., just like when she was living in the fast lane as a supermodel – but these days she s up at that hour to check on her puppy Kaia before fixing breakfast for her 11-year-old twins, Jake and Hunter.
She centers the rest of her day on her boys, driving them to summer school, accompanying them on dirt bikes and begging them to pick up after themselves.
“I love being a mom and the chaos it brings me,” says Taylor, 31, who lives with the boys in four-bedroom, French colonial in Brentwood, Tenn. “It reminds me how lucky and blessed I am.”
Those aren’t words that first come to mind when reviewing Taylor s life. In 1995 she saw her younger sister Krissy, also a model, die at age 17 from a rare heart ailment. A year later Taylor’s marriage to the twins’ father, Arena football player Matt Martinez, fell apart. Then there was her battle with prescription drugs and the car crash five years ago that left her clinging to life and resulted in more than 50 surgeries and procedures to repair her wrecked body.
Yet as Taylor looks out over her 7-acre retreat she says, “I have a good thing going on.”
She rarely models anymore, instead focusing on a slew of fashion-related enterprises. She has even found a way to stay in touch with her wild side: by riding her Harley-Davidson Road King, an odd choice, perhaps, for someone who nearly died in a car crash. But Taylor shrugs off such concern. ”
I’m not one to worry – what’s the point?” she explains. “We are only here for a short amount of time. You have to live your life. I know that.”
She knows that a lot better than most: In April 2001, Taylor was with friends in Atlanta when the driver of the car she was in attempted to answer his cell phone and lost control of the vehicle, smashing it into a utility pole.
“The doctors prepared us several times for the worst,” says Taylor s mom, Barbara, 59, a photographer. “They said, ‘Don’t expect any miracles.'”
During the six weeks she spent unconscious, Taylor says she experienced terrible nightmares. When she finally regained consciousness that June, she says, “I went through every emotion possible and was like, Something has to change.'”
Taylor refocused her life on her boys, settling in Brentwood after she fell in love with the area during a visit. It was there that she dated ex-boyfriend Keith Urban, whom she was with from 2002 to 2004. “We’re still friends, and I’m so happy for him and Nicole.”
Taylor hopes that kind of happiness is in her cards too. “I want to find the right man,” she admits. But only homebodies need apply. On Friday I just want to stay on the couch and watch a movie with the boys, says Taylor. That is the perfect night.”
For the full story, pick up PEOPLE on newsstands now.