LOWELL (AP) – Eight months ago, Sandy Sian had never smoked. So, the 39-year-old Lowell woman is not exactly sure how she managed to out-smoke other veteran pipe smokers to win an Oct. 29 contest billed as a `world’ pipe smoking competition.
With her puffing prowess, she became the first woman to ever win the International Association of Pipe Smokers Clubs contest in Shepherd, near Mount Pleasant.
“I felt pretty honored,” said Sian, a mother of three children, ages 19, 16 and 11.
The goal of the 63rd annual contest: keep 3.3 grams of burley tobacco lit for the longest time. Contestants are provided with two stick matches and must get their pipe lit within 60 seconds.
Sian, to her surprise, managed to keep the smoke going for 80 minutes, surpassing the runner-up by nine minutes.
“When I got to the top 10, I was pretty excited,” Sian said. “And when I reached the top five, I could barely contain myself.
“But at that point, I had no idea that a woman had never won it,” she said.
Sian was up against at least three past winners of the contest. Most of the competitors were from Michigan and belong to smoking clubs in Flint and Mount Pleasant, but a few came from clubs as far away as Arkansas.
During the contest, part of the trick is properly packing the tobacco down as it’s smoked. Sian uses a small metal tool for the task.
Sian came upon pipe smoking simply by circumstance. Dave Sprunger, the father of a close friend and owner of a Mount Pleasant smoke shop, died in late February.
Sprunger had been named “pipe smoker of the year” by the International Association of Pipe Smokers at one point and was well known by many pipe smokers.
After Sprunger’s death, Sian ended up buying a pipe at Sprunger’s shop. His wife now runs the business, and she told Sian about the annual smoking contest.
Sian said she smoked the pipe infrequently, maybe 30 times, before the October competition.
Now, she smokes about three times per week and admittedly enjoys trying different tobacco blends.
She took home two trophies from the contest: the first-place award and being the top woman contestant. Sian was one of only two women to enter this year’s event.
At home, the trophies are a point of pride for her kids. “They think it’s absolutely awesome,” she said.
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