By Katherine Skiba
12:38 PM EST, January 3, 2013
Keeping a pledge he made last spring, Sen. Mark Kirk climbed the Capitol steps on Thursday to mark his return almost a year after suffering a major stroke.
The 53-year-old Republican from Illinois was greeted by two top Democrats: Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Dick Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois.
Using a four-pronged cane, Kirk made the climb assisted by Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who is Kirk’s best friend in the Senate. Hundreds of well-wishers stood and applauded, including more than 60 members of Congress.
Biden, addressing Kirk as he began his climb, remarked: “You got all day, pal. It took me seven months to make these steps.” The vice president in 1988 was absent from the Senate for months because ofo surgeries for brain aneurysms.
The vice president grasped Kirk's right upper arm, and Manchin, on the left, kept his hand around Kirk’s waist, to assist and guide him on the way up.
"Hi, guys," Kirk told reporters and photographers.Kirk's climb took about 20 minutes, since he paused at times, giving a hearty wave or a thumbs-up to cheering lawmakers. He got a hug and kiss from one lawmaker, Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C.
Kirk, wearing eyeglasses, a light blue tie and a dark suit and overcoat, conquered each step chiefly using his right leg and foot, as his left leg remains impaired. His left arm appeared largely immobilized.
Several House and Senate members from Illinois were among those who turned out, cheering "Bravo" when Kirk reached the top of the steps at the Senate’s exterior door, located on the second floor of the Capitol. One of them was Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a double amputee from the Iraq war, who called it a "fantastic day" for people with disabilities and for the nation.
"Nice to see you guys," Kirk told reporters when he entered the hallway leading to the Senate. A reporter asked what it was like to be back, and Kirk had two words: "Feels great."
Kirk then took his regular desk on the Senate floor, where Biden swore in more than 30 new senators.
Kirk’s stroke last Jan. 21 forced him to learn how to walk again. In a video released last May, he announced: “I'm walking again, leading to my hope to climb the 45 steps that my staff counted from the parking lot to the Senate front door to fight for the people of Illinois.”
The lawmaker, from Highland Park, served almost 10 years in the House before he was elected in November 2010 to succeed Democratic Sen. Roland Burris, who was appointed to fill the term of another Democrat, Sen. Barack Obama, now president.
Kirk, who is up for re-election in 2016, will continue to undergo rehabilitation while in Washington, where he has new, handicapped-accessible living quarters on Capitol Hill, said spokesman Lance Trover.
Medical professionals who oversaw Kirk’s three surgeries and subsequent recovery from the ischemic stroke were to address reporters later today in the Capitol.
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