Winston-Salem Journal: Inspirational couple wows the crowd at Stevens Center

Former astronaut Mark Kelly had the crowd on his side from the very start during Wednesday night’s American Perspectives talk at the Stevens Center, but when his wife came out on stage the place went crazy.

Kelly’s wife is Gabby Giffords, a former Arizona congresswoman who survived an attempt on her life in a public shooting that left her seriously injured and cost six people their lives.

Kelly regaled people with stories of hair-raising near-misses as a combat pilot in the Gulf War during 1991, and had people laughing over the experiences he had as a space shuttle pilot.

Then Kelly would switch gears and move to the events of Jan. 8, 2011, when his wife was shot at an outdoor gathering designed to let people meet their congresswoman. Flying to Arizona, he heard newscasters saying that Giffords had died.

Even when Kelly found out that wasn’t true, the news was still bad: Giffords had received a bullet wound to the brain. That brought back to his memory a harrowing night in New Jersey when, as an emergency medical worker, he attended a man who had been shot seven times, including once in the head.

Throughout his talk, Kelly used the anecdotes and experiences to illustrate points:

“How good you are at the beginning of anything you try is not a good indication of how good you become,” Kelly said, summing up what he learned from his early failures at being a good jet pilot.

Folks in the crowd could be overheard saying “wow!” at some of Kelly’s revelations about flying the space shuttle, including the transporter’s zero to 17,500 mile-per-hour acceleration in eight and a half minutes.

The American Perspectives series is an annual event that raises money for Old Salem Museums and Gardens, and Old Salem President Ragan Folan was onstage with the Giffords later in the evening to read off questions from people in the audience, which numbered some 500 people.

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