It looked doubtful that the entire group of 40 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade girls from Baltimore City's Edgewood Elementary would complete a mile run when they took the track last spring.
One girl vomited. Other girls wiped away tears as they began to get muscle cramps midway through. But each girl finished.
"It wasn't pretty," recalled Kaitlin Loftus, a math teacher at the school who trained the girls to get them prepared for the challenge. "But each girl wanted to complete the run."
She added: "It was amazing. I had to put in a lot of time and effort in these practices, but it was totally worth it."
Recently, Loftus was recognized for her efforts through Under Armour's "What's Beautiful" competition, a nationwide contest that encourages women to set personal fitness and athletic goals through an online platform. Throughout the 10-week contest, which began on April 23, participants were challenged to reach their goals while documenting evidence of their successes through videos, photos and diary entries. The progress of each participant was featured on the challenge's homepage and mobile app. More than 26,000 uploaded pieces of content were shared during the competition.
Loftus was one of four winners whittled down from 10 semi-finalists. She joined a mother of two from Houston, Texas, who set a goal to complete her first triathlon; a Knoxville, Tenn., woman who formed a web site for local women that built self esteem and confidence; and a Farmington Hills, Mich. woman who encouraged others to complete the athletic challenges in honor of another woman who was seriously injured.
"For the past 10 weeks, these four women have dug deeper, pushed farther and worked harder than ever to redefine beauty by displaying their strength, resolve and unwavering dedication to reaching their respective goals," said Adrienne Lofton Shaw, Senior Director, Women's Marketing, Under Armour, in a prepared statement.
As a winner, Loftus becomes one of the faces of Under Armour Women and receives a one-year sponsorship deal with the company, granting her access to special events, training with celebrity trainers, Under Armour gear for a year and nutrition consultation.
"I was blown away," said Loftus who was named the online winner of the contest after receiving the most votes of the 10 semi-finalists. "People have been telling me that they really loved these videos. To know that I won was a real honor and privilege. I was honored and flattered."
Loftus was assisted by another teacher, Helena Ortiz-Smith, in leading the girls in practices, which were held for 45 minutes, five days a week. The girls engaged in various forms of exercise — everything from jumping rope to running stairs — in order to build their endurance for the big day.
Loftus, a seven-year teaching veteran who came to the school system through its teacher residency program, hopes to continue the program next school year.
"I've got the girls ready to go," she said. "We're definitely going to make time for it. It went a lot further than being fit."
Loftus said that the program had positive effects in the classroom. Disciplinary incidents decreased. Homework, which was a mandatory stipulation in order to participate in the program, was getting done. And self-esteem was improving, according to Loftus.
The response from the girls was Loftus' favorite part, she said.
"One girl said: 'I can do anything the boys can do,'" Loftus recalled. "I know these girls don't get a lot of opportunities for after-school activities. It was really gratifying. I hope it opens doors."