Gabby Giffords Opens Up About Hobbies, Marriage and Why She 'Won't Back Down' in New Documentary

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Gabby Giffords
Gabby Giffords

Shannon Finney/Getty Gabby Giffords

As the cameras turned on for my interview with former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, all I could notice was her warm, friendly smile that truly does light up a room.

From the outside, you'd never know Giffords was missing part of her skull and suffers from aphasia, a language disorder that effects speech. But after being shot in the head 11 years ago at a rally for her in Arizona, Giffords knows she is lucky to be alive, so she maintains a positive attitude.

"For me, it has been really important to move ahead, to not look back," the 52-year-old tells PEOPLE exclusively ahead of the release of her documentary, Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down. "I hope others are inspired to keep moving forward no matter what."

RELATED: Gabby Giffords Advocates Tirelessly Against Gun Violence in Inspiring Trailer for Upcoming Documentary

Gabby Giffords
Gabby Giffords

Patrick Semansky/AP

On Jan. 8, 2011, Giffords was at a Safeway in Tucson, Ariz., with her staff for a constituent meeting when a gunman opened fire, killing six people, including one of her staffers and a 9-year-old girl. Giffords was one of 18 people shot during the incident.

The CNN Films documentary follows Giffords' journey, showing how she defied every odd stacked up against her. From several surgeries, to being taken off life support in just 30 days, we see Giffords work hard to get better as she discovers unique therapies which quickly turned into her new favorite hobbies.

RELATED: Gabby Giffords Says Music Therapy Has 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 have bike riding in the gym, but we do not have yoga. Yes, we have the French horn and the singing, but we don't have your duet with Yo-Yo Ma. We have Gabby speaking Hebrew over her Bar Mitzvah practice but we did not mention that she also takes Spanish lessons."

Gabby-and-Mark-interview-Gabby Giffords Wont Back Down
Gabby-and-Mark-interview-Gabby Giffords Wont Back Down

Dyanna Taylor Gabby Giffords and husband Mark Kelly

One of Giffords' biggest advocates during her recovery has been her husband of 15 years, Sen. Mark Kelly, who almost never left his wife's side during the awful ordeal.

"He is my best friend," Giffords shares. "He is so funny. I love him a lot."

RELATED: Mark Kelly Opens Up on His Role in the Senate and Life with Wife Gabby Giffords

"I think that their relationship is based on a shared sense of values and a shared sense of humor," Betsy West, the film's other director, says. "They do have a lot of fun with each other."

As the topic of gun violence in America continues to heat up while mass shootings numbers rise, Giffords, who just received a Medal of Freedom from President Joe Biden, promises to keep fighting against access to the weapons that nearly took her life.

US President Joe Biden presents former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, during a ceremony honoring 17 recipients, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, July 7, 2022.
US President Joe Biden presents former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, during a ceremony honoring 17 recipients, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, July 7, 2022.

SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty

"Be a leader, set an example, be passionate, be courageous, and be your best," Giffords says of her goals. "Move forward no matter what."

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As our interview concludes, I take a turn to smile back at Giffords and nod her a "Beardown," an ode to the University of Arizona, whose hospital took care of her when she was shot. Filled with pride she gives me one back, and I begin thinking of her own mantra.

"Save lives! Save lives! Save lives!"

Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down hits theaters July 15.