Claudia Marsh was supposed to walk in her commencement ceremony in May. Instead, she traded the gown and tassel for a pipe and tobacco, and became a champion.
Marsh, a recent CMU graduate, skipped her commencement to compete against seasoned smokers at the biggest pipe smoking show in the Midwest. She won, earning the title of the Chicagoland Pipe Show women’s pipe smoking champion.
“Being the champ hasn’t really sunk in. Shock had to take over,” Marsh said. “All my friends didn’t believe me when I said I won. I always have to show them some proof before they will believe I’m the champion.”
For the competition, each competitor was given the same make and style of pipe, three grams of tobacco and two matches. They were given five minutes to load their pipes any way they liked and one minute to light up.
Competitors could use the second match to relight their pipes, but after that match was gone, no more re-lights were allowed.
The winner of the competition was determined by who smoked their pipe the longest. Marsh, after smoking her pipe for 48 minutes and 16 seconds, passed the runner-up by two minutes.
Marsh originally wasn’t at the show for the competition. While smoking in one of the tents at the show, she was approached by a woman she had never seen before. The woman asked her if she was going to be in the competition and encouraged her to sign up when Marsh said she wasn’t.
It was later discovered the woman who had approached Marsh was the reigning pipe smoking champion in the women’s division.
“I think she was looking for more women to be in the competition. Pipe smoking is a male-dominated sport,” Marsh said. “She was probably looking for young women, too. My friend and I looked like the youngest pipe smokers there. The only other young women there where smokers’ wives.”
Was it worth skipping commencement? For Marsh, it was.
“I talked to my mom about missing the walk before deciding to be part of the competition,” Marsh said. “She said she was OK with it, so I was OK with it. She was forced to walk in her commencement and missed out on a few things. So, letting me decide what I wanted to do was liberating.”