She's walking.

Writing with her left hand.

Understanding everything. And talking more each day.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords showed the world her determination when she made a historic vote on the debt ceiling in Congress Aug. 1, but the 41-year-old politician has more goals to achieve, her district director told a noontime meeting of the Democrats of Greater Tucson Monday.

"She's on a path to full recovery - I am certain about that," Ron Barber said. "Her cognitive abilities are 100 percent. If I could say 150 percent - I know that's not possible - but that's how I see it."

Barber and his wife, Nancy, had dinner with Giffords when the congresswoman made a visit to Tucson in June, and Barber said she recognized and responded to every place, person and issue he mentioned. She also asked to drive by some of her favorite local spots, including the Rialto, Hotel Congress, Raging Sage, Feast and Bentley's - all places where she used to ride her bike before the shooting occurred.

Giffords "understood everything," Barber said, and responded with three- and four-word sentences, as well as visual recognition and hand gestures, he said. Since June, Giffords' sentences have become longer, and her vocabulary grows every day, he said.

"She really knows what is going on," Barber said. "For those of you who know about rehabilitation, if your cognition is intact, the rehab becomes much more feasible for success, and that is certainly the case in speech therapy. So she's on a path to full recovery. I'm certain of that."

Giffords was shot clear through the left side of her head on Jan. 8 as she hosted a meet-and-greet outside a northwest-side supermarket. She is one of 13 people injured by gunfire that day. Barber and fellow Giffords staffer Pam Simon were among those injured. Six others, including 30-year-old Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, were killed.

The Tucson-born congresswoman was transferred from University Medical Center in Tucson to TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation hospital in Houston in late January. Giffords' husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, lives in Houston, and TIRR Memorial is one of the country's top-rated rehabilitation hospitals.

Giffords has been setting goals ever since she began her inpatient rehabilitation and has met all of them, including traveling to Florida to watch her husband's space shuttle launch, moving from inpatient to outpatient rehabilitation, visiting Tucson and casting a vote on an important piece of legislation in Congress. She's reading and keeping up with world events, too.

"Everything she has asked of herself she has accomplished," Barber said.

When Giffords saw her outpatient rehabilitation regimen, she declared it "too wimpy" and designed a more rigorous plan for herself, which includes six hours of daily therapy five days per week, he said.

He added that Giffords studied the bipartisan legislation to raise the debt ceiling on the plane before casting her vote.

"We get a call saying she wants a complete copy of the legislation. We emailed it and she studied it on the plane. I would venture to say she may be one of the few members of Congress who actually read the darned thing," he said.

Before the shooting, Giffords was thinking about running for Republican U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl's Arizona seat, Barber confirmed. But there is no word yet on her political future.

"The congresswoman will make that decision when the time is right. She'll make the decision based on her own sense of her ability to serve well," he said. "She will not do anything, I think, unless she can do it extraordinarily well."

Her current goal is to return home to Tucson, Barber said.

"Nothing against Houston, but she's a Tucson woman and she wants to be here," he said. "She misses Tucson terribly - the mountains, people, places that we love. ... She wants to be home. And then when she's home and she knows what her abilities are, her next goal will be to make a decision on her political future."

Barber, who is back at work four hours per day, was shot twice Jan. 8 and nearly died. He still has not regained the use of his left leg and walks with a cane.

When he last saw her, Giffords was also walking with a cane, as the right side of her body was affected by the shooting. But in another example of her progress, she has begun to walk without the cane, a Giffords office spokesman said this morning.

"We shuffled toward each other," Barber said of his last meeting with the congresswoman in June. "It took me six months to recover and return to work, so we would expect she might take a little longer, given the severity of her injury. I think she's entitled to a longer recovery."

Did You Know

There has already been one community meeting with survivors of the Tucson shooting about creating a local Jan. 8 memorial, but no details have been decided. The University of Arizona's College of Architecture is researching different memorials around the world as part of the process.

There's also some discussion starting about how to commemorate the first anniversary of Jan. 8.

Source: Ron Barber, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' district director.

Contact Star reporter Stephanie Innes at 574-4134 or