Keynote Speaker: Capt. Mark Kelly

Leadership, decision making, communication and the power of the human spirit

Kelly headlines keynote session


What guides Capt. Mark Kelly most in life, he says, is simple: “My desire to have Gabby recover as much of her former self as is possible.”

Kelly, husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, is the keynote speaker for The Rental Show 2013 in Las Vegas. Giffords sustained life-threatening injuries during a shooting in 2011. Kelly, an astronaut and retired U.S. Navy captain, will talk about their experience, chronicled in the book, “Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope.”

“I think people could take away from our story that my wife is an incredible fighter and a woman that doesn’t give up. Maybe this could be helpful when they go through some difficult times of their own,” Kelly says.

On Jan. 8, 2011, a small crowd gathered in the Safeway parking lot near Tucson. They had been up early that day, to attend a “Congress on Your Corner” meet-and-greet with then U.S. Rep. Giffords.

Giffords had just been sworn in to her third term in office, and had big plans for her district. She loved meet-and-greets because “she thought that it was her job to go out in public, to listen to the people, and to help them if she could,” the book stated. That morning, she began greeting constituents at about 10 a.m.

At 10:10 a.m., Jared Loughner, 22, went on a shooting rampage at the event, killing six people and wounding 13 more.

Among those killed were Christina-Taylor Green, a 9-year-old attending Giffords’ event with a neighbor, and Gabe Zimmerman, 30, one of Giffords’ staff members. Ron Barber, a Giffords staff member who later filled her congressional seat, also was injured. Giffords herself was shot in the head.

After the shooting, two constituents wrestled Loughner to the ground and held him down until police arrived. Emergency crews arrived, and Giffords was taken to the hospital and into surgery right away.

The shooting, which sparked grief and anger at the injustice around the world, thrust Giffords and her husband of three and a half years, into the spotlight. The media followed Giffords’ daily progress throughout the year. Kelly was interviewed by the press, and their story was told on “Nightline” and “The Daily Show,” as well as in People and USA Today. Kelly was featured on the cover of Esquire and named one of the magazine’s 2011 “Americans of the Year.”

Meanwhile, Giffords was in therapy, learning how to do basic skills and most of all, speak. The bullet had penetrated the left side of her brain and impacted the area that handled speech. Words were now a challenge. Kelly, an astronaut, spent his days at her side, yet still had to prepare for his final mission as commander of the space shuttle Endeavour.

Kelly and Giffords began to put together a book about what had happened, including their personal history, as well as their courting days and marriage, and how they were coping with their new life. The book, “Gabby,” was released in November 2011.

“I tried to be as candid as possible and leave the reader with a complete picture as things progresses from my point of view,” Kelly says. “However, there have been details about the man who shot Gabby and some details about that day that I learned after the book was published.”

Not much has changed, Kelly says, since the book came out. “It has changed mostly in that we have moved from Houston back to Gabby’s hometown of Tucson. She spent a year and a half in a rehab hospital and then doing some extensive outpatient therapy. She is very happy to be home,” Kelly says.

Since then, Loughner has been tried and sentenced to seven consecutive life terms in prison and an additional 140 years. Kelly and Giffords attended the Nov. 8, 2012, hearing as did the other families impacted that day. Kelly gave a statement. “Gabby would trade her own life for one you took on that day. Every day is a continuous struggle to do the things she was once so very good at. By making death and producing tragedy you sought to diminish the beauty of life,” he said. “You tried to create a world as dark and evil as your own. Remember this: You failed.”

Today, Gabby continues to improve, and Kelly tells their story around the nation. Among other topics, in his presentations, Kelly talks about leadership, the importance of teamwork, and courage under pressure.

“I hope they feel somewhat uplifted,” Kelly says. “I also hope they take away something they can use from some of my stories about leadership, decision making, communication and the power of the human spirit.”

The keynote session will begin at 8 a.m. Monday, Feb. 11, and is sponsored by Ditch Witch.