Former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband retired astronaut...

Former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband retired astronaut Mark Kelly speak at Temple Sinai of Roslyn on Thursday night, April 27, 2017. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said she learned to “live every day to the fullest” after being shot in the head in 2011 and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, commended her for being the one “who inspires me each and everyday.”

Giffords said her “spirit’s as strong as ever.” She is trying to become “a better, stronger, tougher” person instead of trying to reclaim her former self, she said Thursday night at Temple Sinai of Roslyn, where her speech lasted about as long as the standing ovation that greeted her.

“It’s been a long, hard haul, but I’m getting better,” said Giffords, who walks with a cane. “I’m still fighting . . . and you can too,” she told about 400 people in the Roslyn Heights synagogue.

Giffords, a Democrat who represented Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, was critically wounded in an assassination attempt while speaking with constituents in a parking lot of a Tucson supermarket in January 2011. Six people were killed and 13 were wounded.

Kelly said he learned of the shooting in a call from Giffords’ chief of staff while he was at their home in Houston, a moment he called the beginning of “the biggest challenge of my life.” He detailed the horror of watching the news on a friend’s corporate plane with his daughters and his mother to Tucson as reporters mistakenly pronounced Giffords dead.

“My mom screamed. My daughters are crying,” Kelly said, later joking, “My wife, Gabby, wasn’t going to get taken out by cable news.”

Kelly, a former U.S. Navy pilot, said his wife’s past demonstrations of patience served as an inspiration when he struggled with the realization during Giffords’ recovery process that “this was going to be the rest of our lives . . . do I have it in me to do this for decades?”

Her support of his career also prompted him to go back to work at NASA and fly on the Endeavor space shuttle, which was the final of his four space flights.

Giffords missed attending his landing because she had another brain surgery. Soon after, she “made the bold decision” to go back to Congress to vote on a bill to raise the debt ceiling, Kelly said.

“I could not be more proud of my wife, Gabby, after everything she’s been through to just do her job,” said Kelly, who noted his wife now has aphasia, which means she has difficulty with language.

Kelly — who interspersed his speech with jokes about aliens, the movie, “Top Gun,” and his wife’s crush on the singer, Bono — said Giffords keeps the piece of her skull that had been removed after the shooting in their freezer in Tucson, showing “the power of the human spirit” to survive.

“Despite putting a bullet in her head, [the shooter] hasn’t put a dent in her spirit, in her desire to make the world a better place,” Kelly said. “She reminds me each and every day to defy the expected.”

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