Profile in courage: Gabby Giffords' most inspiring moments 

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) blows a kiss after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during the final session of the Democratic National Convent... ERIC THAYER / Reuters
It has been three years since former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in a mass shooting her home district of Tucson, Ariz.

In the three years since a gunman shot her in the head at point blank range, Gabrielle Giffords has had to learn how to talk and walk again, never mind give up her dream job of representing the country.

In the process, she has inspired a nation, becoming a symbol of hope and, at times, political unity.

Wednesday marked the third anniversary of the mass shooting that killed six people and wounded Giffords and 12 others. The former House Democrat from Tucson, Ariz., observed the day with a high-flying embrace of life: She went skydiving.

These days, in addition to continuing her extensive rehabilitation therapy, Giffords joins her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, in running a national political organization that focuses on curbing gun violence.

Here are some of Giffords' most inspirational moments over the remarkable three years past:

Giffords casts her first House vote since getting shot. On Aug. 1, 2011, Giffords made a dramatic return to Congress, her first public appearance since getting shot. 

Her entrance on the House floor surprised her colleagues, nearly all of whom did not expect to see her for the vote on a bill to raise the nation’s debt ceiling — one of the most contentious issues of that year. "The #Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight," she said in a tweet.

Giffords resigns from Congress. On Jan. 24, 2012, Giffords arrived on the House floor to hear President Obama deliver the State of the Union address. She received a standing ovation and moved her fellow lawmakers to tears as she made her way and took her seat among the Arizona delegation. 

The following day, the waterworks flowed again as she formally stepped down from office. In the resignation letter she delivered to teary-eyed House Speaker John Boehner, Giffords said she had "more work to do on my recovery before I can again serve in elected office.” She also said that while she didn’t remember much from the day she got shot, “I have never forgotten my constituents, my colleagues or the millions of Americans with whom I share great hopes for this nation.”

Chair of the Democratic National Committee Debbie Wasserman Schultz (L) and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords deliver the Pledge of Allegiance a... MLADEN ANTONOV / AFP/Getty Images
Giffords delivers the Pledge of Allegence on the final day of the Democratic National Convention on Sept. 6, 2012, She stands next to DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Leading the Pledge of Allegiance. Although her name was never listed on the schedule for the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Giffords had a starring role one night during that weeklong meeting of the party faithful. She walked onto stage on Sept. 6, 2012, with the backup of DNC chairwoman (and personal friend) Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. Giffords then delivered the Pledge of Allegiance, which was followed by an eruption by cheers of “Gabby! Gabby!” as she left the stage.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (L), former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (C) and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, leave the ... MICHELLE MCLOUGHLIN / Reuters
Giffords leave the Newtown Municipal Building with her husband and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on Jan. 4, 2013.

Meeting with families and officials in Newtown, Conn. Weeks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Giffords arrived in Newtown on Jan. 4, 2013, to meet with town officials and privately console the heartbroken families of victims. Giffords spoke to everyone from the heart with a rare perspective — personal experience.

A leap of faith. Giffords decided to commemorate the third anniversary of the shooting that nearly cost her life with a death-defying leap of faith: She decided to go skydiving to celebrate all the work and progress she has made in her recovery. 

TODAY's Savannah Guthrie, who accompanied Giffords on the jump, called her "an incredibly brave person." Vice President Joe Biden agreed, giving her a call Wednesday to wish her luck before the jump. 

  • Slideshow Photos

    Eric Thayer / X02070

    Image: Gabrielle Giffords blows a kiss after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte

    Former Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

    A look at the Arizona lawmaker's rise to prominence — from high school to Capitol Hill.

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    Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot and left handicapped after a gunman opened fire at an event in Tucson, Ariz., and her husband retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly prepare to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 2013.

    Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA
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    U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, leave the Newtown Municipal Building in Newtown, Conn. on Jan. 4, 2013. Giffords met with Newtown officials on Friday afternoon before heading to visit with families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

    Michelle Mcloughlin / Reuters
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    Gabrielle Giffords waves to the Space Shuttle Endeavor with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly as it flies over Tucson, Ariz. on its way to Los Angeles, on Sept. 20, 2012. Kelly served as Endeavour's last space commander months after Giffords survived serious head injuries because of a 2011 shooting.

    P.K. Weis / Southwest Photo Bank via AP
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    Gabrielle Giffords blows a kiss after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. on Sept. 6, 2012.

    Eric Thayer / Reuters
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    Gabrielle Giffords stands on top of a peak in the French Alps with her husband Mark Kelly, right,, and mountain guide Vincent Lameyre, July 23, 2012. On her first trip out of the country since her injury in 2011, she rode a two-stage cable car to a station for spectacular views of Mont Blanc.

    Denis Balibouse / Reuters
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    Ron Barber, right, celebrates his victory with Giffords, left, prior to speaking to supporters at a post election event, Tuesday, June 12, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz. Barber, Giffords' former district director, won her seat in a special election after she resigned to focus on her recovery.

    Ross D. Franklin / AP
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    Democratic Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, read Rep. Gabriell Giffords resignation speech on the House floor on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012. The day after President Obama's State of the Union speech, Giffords formally offered her resignation to Speaker John Boehner. Weeping, Shultz applauded the strength of her friend and colleague, "I'm so proud of my friend."

    MSNBC
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    President Barack Obama hugs retiring Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as the president arrives to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012.

    Pool / Reuters
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    Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., left, and Pelosi, right, posing with Giffords husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly of the Navy, at his retirement ceremony with Vice President Joe Biden in the Old Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011.

    House Leader Nancy Pelosi's office / AP
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    Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returns to the House for the first time since she was shot, making a dramatic entrance on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, during a crucial debt vote. She drew loud applause and cheers from surprised colleagues.

    NBC News
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    Rep. Gabrielle Giffords poses for a photo the day after the launch of NASA space shuttle Endeavour and the day before she had her cranioplasty surgery, outside TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital May 17, in Houston, Texas. Aides of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords posted two recent photos of the congresswoman to her public Facebook page, the first since the January 8 shooting that killed six people and wounded a dozen others.

    P.K. Weis / Giffords Campaign / Getty Images
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    Emergency workers use a stretcher to move Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011.

    James Palka / AP
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    In this Jan. 5, 2011 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner re-enacts the swearing in of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Capitol Hill in Washington.

    Susan Walsh / AP
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    Rep. Giffords, left, speaks during a candidates debate with Republican candidate Jesse Kelly at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., on Oct. 18, 2010. Kelly is an Iraq War veteran and was the Tea Party favorite for the 8th congressional district seat.

    Joshua Lott / The New York Times via Redux Pictures
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    Rep. Gabrielle Giffords meets with constituents in Douglas, Ariz., in 2010. Giffords, 40, took office in January 2007, emphasizing issues such as immigration reform, embryonic stem-cell research, alternative energy sources and a higher minimum wage.

    Reuters
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    Rep. Giffords speaks during a press conference in Washington, D.C., where members of Congress called on the President to secure the border with the National Guard on April 28, 2010.

    James Berglie / Zuma Press
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    This picture provided by the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Monday, March 22, 2010, shows damage to her office in Tucson, Ariz. The congressional office was vandalized a few hours after the House vote overhauling the nation's health care system.

    AP
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    Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., center, gives a tour of Statuary Hall in the Capitol to Shuttle Discovery STS-124 astronauts Mission Specialist Akihiko Hoshide, of Japan, and her husband, Commander Mark Kelly, on Thursday, July 17, 2008.

    Bill Clark / Roll Call Photos
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    From right. Rep. Ken Calvert, Rep. Dennis Moore, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and Rep. Heath Shuler, attend a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on current and proposed employment eligibility verification systems on May 6, 2008. The hearing provided a forum for lawmakers on both sides of the immigration debate, focusing on a system to verify the legal status of workers and job applicants.

    Scott J. Ferrell
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    Gabrielle Giffords with U.S. Navy Cmdr. Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut, at their wedding in Amado, Ariz., on Nov. 10, 2007. Kelly's twin brother, also an astronaut, is a commander on the International Space Station. "We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station. As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not," said Scott Kelly of the tragedy that befell his sister-in-law.

    Norma Jean Gargasz for The New York Times / Redux Pictures
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    Representatives-elect including Dean Heller, top right, and Gabrielle Giffords, next to Heller, prepare for the freshman class picture for the 110th Congress on the House Steps on Nov. 14, 2006.

    Tom Williams / Roll Call Photos
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    Rep. Gabrielle Giffords rides horseback in 2006. In an interview with NPR last year, she recalled working with horses during her adolescence in Tucson. "I loved cleaning out the stalls, and I did that in exchange for riding lessons. And I continue to ride most of my life. And I learned a lot from horses and the stable people ... I think it provided good training, all of that manure-shoveling, for my days in politics ahead."

    Reuters
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    A page entitled, "Just do it!" in La Semeuse, the Scripps College yearbook in 1993. The photo at right shows Giffords in traditional Mennonite clothing. That same year, she won a Fulbright award to study Mennonites and other Anabaptist groups in Northern Mexico. Gifford's senior thesis was titled "Wish Books and Felt-Tipped Fantasies: The Sociology of Old Colony Mennonite Drawings."

    Scripps College
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    Gabrielle Giffords' senior portrait from the 1993 Scripps College yearbook. Giffords double-majored in Latin American studies and sociology. A Dean's List student, Gifford won several awards during her time at Scripps.

    Scripps College
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    Gabrielle Giffords, right, laughs with her mom, Gloria Kay Fraser Giffords, in a photo published in the Scripps College yearbook. Gabrielle received a B.A. in Sociology and Latin American history from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. in 1993.

    Scripps College
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    University High School portrait of Gabrielle Giffords, class of 1988. Dr. John Hosmer, taught history to the future lawmaker. He tells msnbc.com, "Gabrielle sat in the front row. She was inquisitive ... She was a very mature person from the moment she walked in the door."

    University High School
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