Shannon Finney/Getty Gabby Gifford
When the cameras rolled on for my interview with former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, all I could notice was her warm, friendly smile that truly lights up a room.
From the outside, you would never know that Giffords had lost part of his skull and suffered from aphasia, a language disorder that affects speech. But after being shot in the head 11 years ago at a rally for her in Arizona, Giffords knows she’s lucky to be alive, so she maintains a positive attitude.
“For me, it’s been very important to move forward, not look back,” the 52-year-old told PEOPLE exclusively ahead of the release of her documentary, Gabby Giffords won’t back down. “I hope others will be inspired to keep pushing forward no matter what.”
RELATED: Gabby Giffords Relentlessly Advocates Against Gun Violence in Inspirational Trailer for Upcoming Documentary
On January 8, 2011, Giffords was at a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona with his staff for a constituent meeting when a gunman opened fire, killing six people, including one of his employees and a 9-year-old girl. year. Giffords was one of 18 people shot in the incident.
The CNN Films documentary follows Giffords’ journey, showing how she defied all the odds that were thrown against her. From multiple surgeries to having life support removed in just 30 days, we see Giffords working hard to improve as she discovers unique therapies that have quickly turned into her new favorite hobbies.
RELATED: Gabby Giffords says music therapy helped her recover
“There are so many elements to Gabby’s life that we really couldn’t fit them in,” one of the filmmakers, Julie Cohen, shares with PEOPLE. “We cycle in the gym, but we don’t have yoga. Yes, we have French horn and singing, but we don’t have your duet with Yo-Yo Ma. We have Gabby who speaks Hebrew during her practical Bar Mitzvah, but we didn’t mention that she also takes Spanish lessons.”
Dyanna Taylor Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly
One of Giffords biggest defenders during her recovery has been her husband of 15 years, Senator Mark Kelly, who almost never left his wife’s side during the terrible ordeal.
“He’s my best friend,” Giffords shares. “He’s so funny. I like him a lot.”
RELATED: Mark Kelly Opens Up About His Senate Role & Life With Wife Gabby Giffords
“I think their relationship is based on a common sense of values and a shared sense of humor,” said Betsy West, the film’s fellow director. “They have a lot of fun with each other.”
As the topic of gun violence in America continues to escalate as the number of mass shootings rises, Giffords, who just received a Medal of Freedom from President Joe Biden, vows to continue to fight access to the weapons that nearly cost him his life.
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty
“Be a leader, lead by example, be passionate, be brave and do your best,” Giffords says of his goals. “Moving forward no matter what.”
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At the end of our interview, I take turns smiling at Giffords and giving her a “Beardown” nod, an ode to the University of Arizona, whose hospital cared for her when she was shot. Filled with pride, she hands me one back, and I start thinking about her own mantra.
“Save lives! Save lives! Save lives!”
Gabby Giffords won’t back down hits theaters on July 15.