An Under Armour online competition to showcase female athletes drew 10,000 contestants over 10 weeks and ended with four winners from across the U.S., including a Baltimore elementary school teacher who coached girls at the school to complete a one-mile run.
Kaitlin Loftus, 30, who will be starting her eighth year as a teacher at Edgewood Elementary School in West Baltimore, found out Wednesday afternoon that she was among four finalists in Under Armour's "What's Beautiful" competition. The sports apparel maker launched what it billed as a digital experience in April, challenging women to show society what it means to be female, an athlete and beautiful.
To enter, women had to set a goal, then document how they reached those goals. They were encouraged to post photos, videos and diary entries on Under Armour's "What's Beautiful" home page and mobile app. By the end of the competition, the online community had more than 26,000 pieces of content, the Baltimore-based company said.
Loftus and the three other women exemplified best what the Under Armour brand and the "What's Beautiful" challenge are all about, said Adrienne Lofton Shaw, Under Armour's senior director for women's marketing.
"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," Shaw said.
Loftus, a Canton resident and 2004 Loyola University graduate who played tennis for the college, challenged Edgewood Elementary's third, fourth and fifth grade girls, about 40 of them, to train with her after school for 10 weeks. They jumped, ran, and climbed stairs. They trained on the school's blacktop playground and on the high school track next door. When it rained they ran in the gym. Loftus posted videos of the girls' progress on the "What's Beautiful" page nearly every day.
"I wanted to set a goal, something to redefine the female athlete," said Loftus, who swam and played tennis, soccer and basketball while growing up in Connecticut. "My kids don't get a lot in terms of after-school sports, and I know from my own experience how much sports can do for a person.
"I decided to teach them things they had never gotten their hands on," she said. "We started with how to set goals and how to work toward those goals and how to work as a team. The goal was to empower them through sports."
A few of the girls had some dance experience, but none had participated in team sports or training. At first, they were excited about the prospect of training after school with their teacher. Then the reality of the hot, sweaty work set in.
But they persevered. They completed homework so they could attend practice and began to encourage one another, Loftus noticed.
"They got over the low of being worn out, then they really started excelling and meeting the goals we made along the way," she said.
On the last day of May, the entire school and many parents sat in the stands at the track for the girls' one-mile run. One girl vomited. Another had cramps that made her cry. But they all finished.
"It was a big deal," said Loftus, who watched her students' self-confidence blossom. "One of the girls said, 'I learned I can do anything the boys can do.' Their determination improved. Now they think they can do anything, which was my ultimate goal."
On Wednesday, Loftus found herself in the company of three other "What's Beautiful" winners. Amber Johnson, 31, of Houston, a working mother of two struggling to find time for fitness, set a goal to compete in her first triathlon. Sarah Van Sickle, 24, of Knoxville, recruited 250 other women to declare goals on the "What's Beautiful" web community then offered them free boot camp training. Kacey Cummings, 21 of Farmington Hills, MI, organized a web page for a woman who was sidelined from participating in the challenge after a serious accident. The "Team Whitney" page allowed other women to complete Whitney's challenges for her.
Each of the winners will get one-year sponsorship deals with Under Armour, giving them Under Armour gear, sports training, nutrition consultations and access to special events. And, Loftus was told, Under Armour will likely look for ways to help motivate students at Edgewood Elementary in the coming school year.
Loftus, who was a marketing major at Loyola, said she's most excited about combining her marketing background with her love of sports and her involvement with her students.
"I'm looking forward to tackling something different and working with a company that's amazing," she said.
And, no question, she's looking forward to some new Under Armour gear.
"It's not cheap, so I didn't have tons of it, but it will be nice to have tons of it now," she said.
Check out the final "What's Beautiful" video.