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Meet the Aquarius Life challengers

Get healthy. Get happy. Get sorted. All in two months. Could you hack the Aquarius Life Challenge pace? We sifted through 374 entries to find the six best women for the job

  • From left: Bhawna Verma, Paola Pani, Inga Stevens, Accalia Hipwood, Noha El Shazly and Karin Lodt.Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ANM
  • Bhawna Verma:“I’ve lost myself and I want to rediscover who I am.”Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ANM
  • Paola Pani: “For a long time my life has been on hold. I need and want to do something great”Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ANM
  • Inga Stevens: “I want to stop imposingwhat I think I should do on myself and accept who I am”Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ANM
  • Accalia Hipwood: “I want to be able to strike a work/life balance and improve my health.” Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ANM
  • Noha El Shazly: “I’ve had a tough year and I want ‘me’ back. I want to feel good inside and out”Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ANM
  • Karin Londt: “I’ve lost the plot and I need help to get it back. I want to stop treading water”Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ANM


Paola, 36 from Italy, is married to her college boyfriend, who she met when she was 16 years old. In their time together, they have lived in London, Switzerland, Dubai, Oman and the Seychelles, finally returning to Dubai four months ago. Paola has a background in HR and administration, but is currently taking a break from working.

Dear Aquarius "I want to take risks and dare to be wild, but I'm a Michelin-starred sissy. I've lived all over the world, but feel like my life is always on hold. I know a little bit of everything, but have never excelled in anything. I need a breakthrough, I need to do something great!"

She says: "For a long time I've felt stuck… like I've just been waiting for something to happen. The day I sent my Life Challenge entry, I was feeling at rock bottom. But, at that moment, I thought, ‘I can fight and try and pick up the pieces. There must be something I am good at.' I never thought I would be chosen for the Life Challenge… I am really excited, even though I'm a little bit scared. But I have nothing to lose. I'm ready to dedicate myself and give all I have to offer - to the world and to myself."

We say: What struck us most about Paola's entry was the feeling that she felt stagnant in her life. She knows she has a lot to be grateful for, but can't help feeling like there's something more for her out there. We think this is a situation a lot of people will be able to relate to. We hope you find what you're looking for, Paola!


Accalia, 41 from the London, is a successful radio DJ, currently working the morning shift as one half of the Kenny and Accalia breakfast show on Radio Two, 99.3fm. She and her husband have been in Dubai for four years, following a stint in the Cayman Islands.

Dear Aquarius "Last year I took on something which I vowed I would never do again - a breakfast show. After 20 years of getting up between 2am and 4am every morning, the prestige of hosting the best show in radio had waned, but the love of the job and the opportunity to work with Kenny again swept away any common sense on the matter. Unfortunately - as feared - weight-gain, low energy levels, the inability to think straight and living in a constant fog of tiredness have prevailed. It's hard work, it really is. The problem is I love it. I just don't know how to do it and survive."

She says: "The Life Challenge could not have come at a better time. I've spent the last few months saying, ‘I've gotta do something, I've gotta do something.' But that's about as far as I've got towards rectifying the situation. I need to make big changes in 2012 ¬- I feel like it's my last chance. I need to look after myself health-wise, so I can lose weight, have better energy levels and, therefore, increase my confidence. Most importantly, I have to stick to the changes."

We say: Accalia knows what she wants out of her career and her personal life - she just doesn't know how to get it without laying her own health and emotional needs on the sacrificial table. We're looking forward to seeing if she can work out a way to fit all her needs into a 24-hour day. Good luck Accalia!


Noha is 29-years-old and from Egypt. She lives in Khalifa City, has been in the UAE for seven years and is currently working as a facilities operator at a health and fitness club.

Dear Aquarius… "2011 was the toughest year of my life. A lot of things happened which hurt me to the core and now, nearly a year later, I still can't get back on track. I want to be healthy and happy like I used to be, but I've developed a fast food habit and I can't even find the motivation to go out with friends, let alone go to the gym. I hate feeling sorry for myself and want the real me back. I can't remember the last time I felt good inside and out."

She says: "I'm so excited to be on the Aquarius Life Challenge. I really think this could be what I've wanted and needed to help me get myself back together. I knew I needed help, but I didn't know who to ask, or how to get it… but it feels like the right time now. I'm ready to talk, ready to get fit and healthy again, and ready to move on. The Life Challenge seems like the perfect kick-start to my new chapter."

We say: Noha's entry letter left us with no doubt that she was ready to commit herself and start taking action to put her past behind her once and for all. She knows she has a lot to be grateful for in her life, but wants to find a way of reconnecting with her authentic self. We know you can do it, Noha!


Inga, 31, is half-Finnish, half-English and has lived in Dubai her whole life. She is a PR and social media manager at a company which organises large exhibitions across the UAE.

Dear Aquarius… "Like most other thirty-something single females living in the UAE, I could certainly do with shedding my stubborn Dubai-stone and toning my bingo wings - but it's something beyond the skin-deep aspect of the Aquarius Life Challenge that gripped me. Turning 30 was a pivotal point in my life as I realised I didn't know what I truly wanted out of my life. I've just finished a post-graduate degree, I have a good job… I always thought that if I carried on down this path, eventually it would lead to the answer, but it hasn't."

She says: "I'm over the moon to be chosen for the Aquarius Life Challenge. I'm looking forward to being committed to my nutrition and fitness goals, and to having guidance in how to take a strong look at my life - to accept myself for who I am, stop trying to impose what I think I ‘should' do on myself, and to take ownership of my emotions. I think talking about it publicly will be very motivating in getting this all done."

We say: Inga's a good all-rounder, in the sense that she wants to see results from all areas of the Life Challenge. From her entry letter, we got the feeling that her self-declared controlling streak has stopped her from living freely and experiencing fully. Hold on tight, Inga, you're in for ride!


Bhawna, 35 from Delhi, has a nine-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. She lives in Sharjah and has been in the UAE for nine years.

Dear Aquarius "We are living in unprecedented times. The human consciousness is rising and I want to be an active participant in this process. I am neither obese, nor a perfect 10; neither a working-mother, nor a nobody; neither a jet-setter, nor a couch-hugger… Somehow, I seem to have lost myself over the years. I want to rediscover myself and I sure could use some help."

She says: "When I sent in my entry, I was 75 per cent ready, 25 per cent not sure. I guess it's inertia - we say we want to change our lives for the better, but somewhere deep down you're never sure if you're ready for it. The great thing about the Aquarius Life Challenge is that it covers all areas of life… nutrition, fitness, emotional health. I'm vegetarian, I practice yoga and I'm no stranger to vision boards, but I can't do it all by myself - I'm looking forward to having guidance from professionals."

We say: We were blown away by the emotional presence and vitality of Bhawna's entry letter - it was like Life Challenge poetry. Her self-awareness is engaging and we can't wait to see what Bhawna discovers on her journey. Enjoy, Bhawna!


Karin, 39 from South Africa, is married with a daughter, is an educational consultant and has been in the UAE for eight years.

Dear Aquarius"If you'd asked me six months ago, I would've said I had my life sussed. Then the world went ape. Everything I thought I knew about me then is not true for me now. No area of my life has escaped unscathed. I need the Aquarius Life Challenge because I seem to have lost the plot and I have no idea how to get it back."

She says: "I think it's been an ongoing realisation that something is not right in my life. None of my attempts to fix it have had the desired effect - but the Life Challenge is an opportunity to take guidance and to face up to what is going wrong. If I don't lose weight, or stick to my goals, I have to face the world. I feel like there's a light at the end of my tunnel - I have the sense of overwhelming relief. It's like I've been holding my breath and treading water for a really long time, and the Aquarius Life Challenge has thrown me a rope."

We say: What we liked about Karin's entry letter was that even though she was talking about some of her life's biggest hurdles, she was still upbeat and her contagious energy shone through. We have every faith that Karin will make the most of the Life Challenge - go for it, Karin!