When Zachary Bako relocated to Shanghai in early 2020, right before the world started to familiarize itself with the word “coronavirus,” he connected with his current clients to let them know that he’d moved. One of those clients, ESPN, has worked with Zachary since 2014 and they were interested in learning more about Michele Aboro. The six-time world champion kickboxer runs a gym in Shanghai, which, like most of the globe’s small businesses, is feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I sent emails to my existing clients notifying them of the relocation. ESPN was interested in what was happening over here, and we pitched Michele’s story, which we featured in a short doc about COVID-19 that my friend and I are producing. Once it was greenlit, we agreed we could capture what we needed in two days at Aboro Academy. The first day was reportage of Michele conducting her classes and what the new day to day was like for them after being able to reopen.
The second day consisted of formal portrait options mixed with more reportage using strobe and continuous lighting.
Michele has a great vibe and is an incredibly humble person. The shoot went smoothly and everyone was excited about the imagery captured. I feel very fortunate to help tell her story knowing that a lot of productions have halted across the globe.
Since Zachary had already spoken with Michele and learned of her story, he was more than prepared to send ESPN the assets it needed for a feature story.
We all sat down in January before we began filming, so I was very aware of what was happening in Michele’s world. In March, when we pitched the idea to ESPN, I went to Aboro Academy to catch up with Michele and to find out how things were going. From that meeting, we sent ESPN a doc with possible angles for the feature and supplied them with some location photos so they could feel the space.
One of the main aspects of this article is the untimely separation of Michele from her wife and daughter. The pair had left Shanghai in late January to celebrate the Lunar New Year in Shenzhen, China. Michele stayed back, watching from afar as someone in Shenzhen contracted the virus and forced her family to evacuate to Hong Kong. Soon, Michele had to shut down her boxing gym, Aboro Academy, and reopened it a month later. Times are tough, of course, but the world champ continues to push on regardless.
Michele is incredibly resilient. She continues to adapt to her situation and is doing a great job pushing forward with her team. Michele misses her wife and daughter very much and she has taken on a bigger role on the administration side of things at the gym. I trust the day she is able to reconnect with her family comes soon. She is working nonstop. I’m grateful we were introduced and had the opportunity to visually tell her story for ESPN.
As Zachary mentioned, what’s so compelling about this story is that Michele goes to work every day with a heavy heart, not sure when she’ll see her wife and daughter again. They’ve been in contact, however, and Zachary was there to capture some of the correspondence.
When I was at the gym on the scout, Michele received a care package full of pictures and snacks from her wife and daughter that have been stuck in Hong Kong since Chinese New Year. I was in the office with her when the package arrived and asked if it was alright to photograph this moment and she agreed.
It was a loving moment that was guarded by her face mask, but I knew she just received a blanket of love through the mail. Some family fuel to fill her up to keep moving forward.
As for the gym itself, it’s started conducting online classes to keep kids active. The staffers at Michele’s gym are a big part of why the ship is still afloat, and the overall familial atmosphere of the place stuck out to Zachary.
[The classes are] a great way to keep the kids engaged and to shake out of whatever their life has been like inside quarantine. Doca, the class instructor, is a great guy and really cares about the health of his students. His dedication is inspiring. Michele has a great team with her and her clients care about her as much as she cares about them. It’s one big family.
Check out more of Zachary’s work on his website.