A Tribute to Luke Iams

“John L. (“Luke”) Iams, 55, of New Martinsville, WV, died April 10, 2004 in Wetzel County Hospital. He was born February 05, 1949. He was a graduate of Fairmont State College and the Pittsburgh School of Mortuary Science.

He was a powerlifter, and the owner of Luke’s Gym. In view of his passing, the memories I have of Luke are many. Mike Lambert has allowed me to share a few.

In October of 1975, I met Luke Iams while lifting at a bench press contest at the Parkersburg YMCA. As AAU Weightlifting, Powerlifting, and Physique Chairman for West Virginia, I introduced myself to Luke and asked him “point blank” if he would hold the WV State Championship beginning in 1976?

Without hesitation, Luke agreed to conduct the event at the earliest possible date.

On February 14th, 1976, Luke directed the very first official WV State Powerlifting Championships and Mr. WV Physique Contest. Lifters at the event were Luke, myself, Ernie Nagy, Herb Fitzsimmons, Nick Busick, Vince White, Chuckie Dunbar, Don Hundley, and several others. From that day forward we actually became a “lifting family”, looking forward to returning to the state meet each year.

Beginning in 1977, Luke served as WV Powerlifting Chairman until April, 1982. During the 1970s, long distance telephone calls were not cheap. Luke would often call me in the evenings and discuss Powerlifting meets, plans, etc.. sometimes for hours! Rather than 28 years ago, it seems as though it has only been 28 years.

Luke earned SHW Elite status on April 1st, 1979. The contest was Luke’s finest hour, as he went 875 SQ – 600 BP – 605 DL for a 2080 Total, placing him into the archives of the WV Powerlifters Hall of Fame. Several pictures were published of this commemorative event in PL USA with an article written by Ron Giarletto. The 875 SQ ranked #4 in the next SHW TOP 100, the 600 BP #2 & the 2080 TL #6.

luke iams powerlifting

Luke performed squats in competition very deep and with good acceleration. The Iams method of “psyching up” prior to attempts was so popular the CBS Sports Spectacular aired his lifting from the Auburn, Alabama World Series of Powerlifting during the Summer of 1980, several months after the actual event.

Had Luke been blessed with the ability to pull Deadlifts in proportion to his outstanding Squat and Bench Press, he probably would have won the IPF Worlds. To this date, Luke remains the first and only West Virginian to officially Bench Press 600 without the use of a Bench Press shirt.

luke iams roger estept powerlifting

From 1976 to 1981, Luke Iams hosted some of the most memorable Powerlifting competitions that I have been associated with. Each year, the audiences present for the Powerlifting, held in the Magnolia High School Gymnasium, were enthusiastic and very large in number because of the achievements and promotional efforts of Luke Iams and the local lifters from LUKE’S GYM. For all of those associated with Powerlifting, especially in WV, the memory of Luke Iams will live on.


1976 – WV State Champion
1977 – WV State Champion: 750 – 510 – 585 – 1845 (PL USA Vol. 1, TOP 100, Luke’s 1977 lifting earned the following rankings. #7 SQ 799, #6 BP 539, #15 TOT 1845).

He lifted in the Seniors 8/20/77 in Santa Monica, CA, at a bodywt. of only 306, in a field of 8 competitors, he tied for the 2nd highest squat with 799. He coached young Chuckie Dunbar to a win at 114 (Chuckie was also a New Martinsville, WV resident).

1978 – Y Nationals 1/22/78 2nd to Dave Waddington in SHW: SQ 805, BP 535, DL 520, TOT 1860.

4/01/78: WV States Winner SHW 750 550 600 1900

5/06/78: Chattanooga Open 810 550 585 1945 (this was a 24 hour event, one of the world’s most famous contests with 204 lifters and 38 physique contestants) Junior Nationals @ “Shell Shock – Little Rock”, Arkansas, Winner with 821 573 578 1973 (Note: in 1978, the JRs had no relation to an age group. It was a “stepping stone” to the Sr. Nationals and the lifter could only be a one time winner).

YMCA National Champion @Sandusky, Ohio. Nov/78 PL USA Vol.2, No.5 ran a story on Luke and the Wild Bench, written by Ron Giarletto. On the TOP 100 SHWs Luke was #4 on SQ, #2 BP, and #8 on TOT. National caliber lifters for the Wil Bunch included MQ Jack Wilson, 198 lber. Roger Estep, and multi-Sr. National Champ at 114lb., Chuckie Dunbar.

1979 – 4/01/79 – WV State Champion…totaled 2080. 5/04/79 – Luke lifted in the prestigious Hawaii Invitational (PL USA Vol.2, No 12 JUN/79 has a photo of Luke Iams and Gus Rethwisch in a ‘posedown’).

8/18/79 – Luke placed 4th @SHW in the Sr. Nationals (referred to as the Meltdown in Mississippi) benching 573 and taking only a token SQ & DL.

1980 – WV States winner 3/30/80. 4/19/80 – 3rd @World Series of Powerlifting in Auburn, Alabama 727 529 600 1857. 7/13/80 – 6th place finish @Senior 771 SQ, 562 BP, 551 DL, 1884 TOT

1981 – WV States Winner @275: SQ 733, BP 529, DL 562, TOT 1824.

1989 – USPF Masters comeback 5/14/89 @SHW – 2nd to Paul Wrenn, 40-44 age group, SQ 749, BP 540, (unable to perform DLs with poundage of any significance – refer to PL USA Vol. 12, May 1989)

1994 – USPF WV State Champion SHW CLASS.”

source: pl usa 2004 Aug, page 23

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