By Jay Levine

(CBS) — It’s been just over 2 years since a stroke nearly took Mark Kirk’s life and a year since his return to Washington.

Only now is Kirk really hitting his stride.

Not physically – not yet, anyway. Kirk hopes six hours of physical therapy a week will increase his mobility. But here’s been a huge difference in his ability to process thoughts and speak, he tells CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine.

“Right after the stroke it was pretty hard for me to read,” he says. “Once I reading became easy, you couldn’t stop me.”

He still uses a wheelchair, but only back and forth to the capitol.

Even from that wheelchair he plots strategy – for example, with Congressman Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, on the way to a meeting about FEMA’s denying downstate communities tornado disaster aid.

Levine spent several hours with Kirk, walking alongside and watching as he grilled staff members during a briefing, attended a committee hearing, and then had a meeting with fellow Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.

“He survived the stroke. It kind of makes him value judgments about his personal life and his political life. The net result of it is that we’re working more closely now,” Durbin says.

Kirk has come a long way since that chilly day last January when he walked up the steps to the Capitol, still a bit unsure that he was here to stay.

He said he had his doubts about his future, but he’s a different man.

“The lesson from the stroke is a never give up. In my case, it’s determination and drive and a tenacity.”

Over the course of several hours, Levine and Kirk talked about his health, government and politics. He said he’s determined to stay out of the GOP gubernatorial primary, but has resumed his role as Illinois’ ranking Republican.

He revealed that there’s another race down the road he’s already planning for: his re-election.

“I’m already raising quite a lot of money to do that,” Kirk says.