During our time at Columbia, most of us meet one or two group leaders, student government presidents, star athletes, and the like. But there are many Columbians whose profiles are lower, yet their talents are just as (or even more) awesome. Here’s our recurring feature devoted to those students: this time, we present Taylor Chaintreuil, a world-class footbag competitor.

Watching Taylor Chaintreuil, CC SEAS 2013, “footbag” is like watching an exquisite dancer. Her movements are quick and extremely athletic, but also rhythmical and very graceful. At the beginning of the semester, before the cold set in, passers-by outside of John Jay thought she was dancing to her own imaginary rhythm. But the real explanation starts with Taylor, a bored freshman in high school, Googling “hacky sack,” and finding herself stunned by the skills of some of the masters, “busting the biggest craziest moves you’ve ever seen.” After researching more about footbag, the technical term for hacky sack, she decided it was what she wanted to do.


Having read that Ron Lavers were the best shoe for weight and surface area for which to feel the bag, she ordered a pair on eBay and made the appropriate “mods,” stripping the leather from the inner panels of the shoe and cutting the tongue free to allow for more movement. She sourced the best beginners bags, and began to practice in her room. During the school year, footbag was more of a relaxing activity, taking a break from studying to play for 15 or 20 minutes, but on weekends and during the summer she began to perfect her skills with several hour-long sessions. Having conquered the initial frustration that accompanies mastering the basic “stalls,” Taylor started putting together sequences of moves she learned from her idols’ YouTube channels, and soon began to post formidable videos herself.

In 2007, it just so happened that the International Footbag Players Association’s World Footbag Championships were being held in Lake Buena Vista, only a few hours away from her home in South Florida. She registered herself in the Women’s Open Freestyle event, made it to the finals, and placed 6th in the overall competition. Spurred on by her success, she continued to practice and network with the larger footbag community, whose American contingent is relatively small and concentrated in the North East and West Coast. Undeterred by the isolation from others who shared her passion, she convinced her parents that the cultural experience afforded by a trip to Europe would justify her taking place in the World Championships held in Prague in 2008.

She now describes that week as the best of her life. Participating in a freestyle competition involves putting together a routine, which she likens to figure skating. Performances are choreographed and put together in time to music, frequently contemporary and hip-hop, but Taylor also likes using classical music. A panel of judges evaluates the routine and those with the highest scores move on to the final round. She placed 7th in the finals, by no means an inferior achievement in a strong field of 200 competitors.

Recreationally, Taylor practices new tricks and classic stalls, taking time out from her busy freshman year to spend an hour or two on the squash courts in Dodge several times a week.Taylor has also met with some of the more prestigious players in the New York area and gone down to Washington Square Park on the weekends to play bag. She always carries around one or two footbags on her person, and she has even begun to stitch her own bags to achieve the perfect dimensions and weight. She hopes to start a footbag club at Columbia, and is currently writing the required constitution. She wants to spread the word about her sport, and demonstrate that it is an extremely competitive and physically demanding activity, rather than something meriting remarks such as “look at those potheads, kicking ‘round the sack again.”

– Claire Sabel