Gabby Giffords, once a rising star in the U.S. House of Representatives, is the subject of a recently released documentary on her life and recovery from a gunshot wound to the head she sustained from the 2011 assassination attempt during an outdoor constituent meeting at an Arizona grocery story.
“Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down,” directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen of “RGB” fame, chronicles Giffords’ rehabilitation journey as well as the continuation of her public work. Much of the documentary footage is interwoven with intimate video recordings by her husband, Senator Mark Kelly.
Giffords is one of the latest recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Biden for her advocacy in gun violence prevention and aphasia awareness. Aphasia is a brain disorder where a person has trouble speaking or understanding other people speaking due to injury or disruption in part of the brain that controls spoken language. Due to Giffords’s aphasia, which limits her ability to spontaneously communicate verbally, Giffords graciously agreed to answer ABILITY Magazine’s questions in writing.
ABILITY: How did you feel receiving the Medal of Freedom?
Gabby Giffords: It was an unbelievable, amazing experience. From the phone call I received from President Biden to the ceremony itself, everything was a whirlwind. I am incredibly honored to receive the Medal of Freedom from President Biden, especially for something as close to my heart as public service.
ABILITY: What was it like being the subject of a documentary?
Giffords: Awesome! COVID was hard: masks, Zoom, no hugs…but the whole crew was fantastic. Visiting my mom, speech therapy, my Bat Mitzvah, riding my bike…and a whole lot of singing!
ABILITY: What do you hope people will take away from your life story?
Giffords: For me, it has been really important to move ahead, to not look back. I hope others are inspired to keep moving forward, no matter what.
ABILITY: Do you know of Carl McIntyre and “Aphasia: The Movie”?
Giffords: I haven’t seen it but will absolutely put it on my list!
ABILITY: What’s your advice to people looking around their own communities and wondering what they can do to help?
Giffords: Be a leader. Set an example. Be passionate. Be courageous. Be your best.
ABILITY: Tell us about the op-ed article you wrote for the Washington Post — “Aphasia makes it hard for me to speak. But I have not lost my voice.”
Giffords: As someone who has been living with aphasia for over a decade and will continue to for the rest of my life, I wanted to use this opportunity to speak to the more than two million Americans who are in a similar position and to help inform those who are not. More than 85% of Americans have never heard the word! The new documentary about my life, “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down,” does a great job of showcasing what it’s like to live with aphasia.
ABILITY: What do you tell yourself when things are difficult?
Giffords: Move ahead! There’s no point in reliving the past; we can only control our futures.
ABILITY: How do you maintain your very positive outlook and optimism?
Giffords: I want to make the world a better place. Thanks to my wonderful support system and the resources I have to aid my continued recovery, it’s hard not to be positive.
ABILITY: Is your recovery a process of discovering a new Gabby Giffords or a fight to reclaim the old Gabby Giffords?
Giffords: A new one: better, stronger, tougher.
ABILITY: You’ve made remarkable gains in your ability to speak. Are you optimistic about your continued recovery?
Giffords: I’m optimistic. It will be a long hard haul, but I’m optimistic.
ABILITY: We heard you are learning Spanish, had you ever thought of learning sign language?
Giffords: I’m partially paralyzed on my right side, which would make that challenging. But I am passionate about communicating with people with differing abilities, and CODA was one of my favorite films of the past year! I’m so glad it got the recognition it deserved.
ABILITY: Tell us about the memorial honoring gun violence victims on the National Mall.
Giffords: In 2021, we held our first Gun Violence Memorial on the National Mall to honor the 40,000 lives lost to gun violence annually in this country. Earlier this summer, we held our final Gun Violence Memorial on the Mall to honor the over 45,000 lives that are lost to gun violence every year—a massive, tragic increase from the year before. In between, we took our memorial on the road to cities across the country, demonstrating the far-reaching impact of this epidemic.