An Arm-Wrestler’s ‘Over-the-Top’ Journey Full article By Corey Kilgannon

Meet Jason Vale: champion arm-wrestler … cancer survivor … convicted felon.

Mr. Vale, 40, grew up in Whitestone, Queens. He excelled on the handball court, in neighborhood pool halls, and on the drums in his church band. But his real forte was as an arm-wrestler. Hecaptured city, state, national and world titles throughout the 1980s and ’90s.

He also beat cancer. Twice, doctors told him that he had fatal tumors. And twice, he survived. The second time, he refused radiation and chemotherapy in lieu of an alternative treatment consisting of eating apricot seeds. The seeds have laetrile, which some people consider an alternative cancer-fighting agent
— and the government considers a fraud.

Federal Food and Drug Administration officials warn that not only are the seeds not a cancer cure, but that they may contain harmful amounts of cyanide. Agency officials accused Mr. Vale of profiting from desperate cancer victims, and in 2000 got a court injunction to stop him from selling the seeds as a cure. Mr. Vale changed his marketing and had relatives handle the seeds, but he was arrested and, in 2003, convicted of criminal contempt of the injunction and sentenced to five years at the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix in New Jersey...

Mr. Vale was released recently and has returned to competitive arm-wrestling. He spent part of his sentence in solitary confinement, where he kept in shape by doing push-ups and pull-ups, he said, but he is hardly back to championship form.

“I want to be No. 1 again, not for myself, but as part of my mission to show the world the power of apricot seeds,” he said recently at his house in Bellerose Manor, Queens.

Mr. Vale is up against an old foe again. He has a tumor in his kidney for which he is refusing standard medical treatment in lieu of the apricot seeds.

Dr. Miguel Cima, a rheumatologist in Garden City, N.Y., who has examined Mr. Vale, said he recommended immediate surgery to remove the tumor but that, “Jason believes in this type of treatment, and this is what he wants.”

Mr. Vale takes a pre-medical curriculum at Queens College and works out with hulking men who tear in half phone books and decks of cards, and roll up frying pans, as shows of strength. Mr. Vale holds his own popular Thursday night arm-wrestling practices in his garage in Queens, which includes Bobby Buttafuoco, a top arm-wrestler and the brother of Joey Buttafuoco.

The arm-wrestling scene in New York City is a tight-knit brotherhood of eccentric (and often well-tattooed) men. Mr. Vale said he recently bought a former city bus to transport the competitors to various tournaments.

“Jason was at the top of his game when he went to jail and I think he could definitely get back on top as a world champ,” said Gene Camp, founder and president of the New York Arm Wrestling Association. “He never gives up and that kind of willpower helped him view cancer as another opponent he was going to beat.”

This month, Mr. Vale took second place in the 31st annual White Castle Empire State Golden Arm Tournament of Champions in Manhattan, where after competing he showed a group of people an open hole in the left side of his torso through which he could exhale, because of a puncture in his lung.

I met Mr. Vale perhaps 15 years ago and wrote an article on him for a Queens weekly newspaper. He managed Royal Billiards parlor, in Bayside, and kept an arm-wrestling table there where he would take on all comers. This was before he had started buying apricot seeds in quantity. He was buying peaches by the case and cracking open the seeds with a hammer.

As a child, Mr. Vale learned arm-wrestling from his father and practiced competing against his aunts. His thick right forearm now dwarfs his left. He was the lightest arm-wrestler to ever win the world title as a super heavyweight, said Dave DeVoto, 77, president of the World Arm Wrestling Federation.

With exceptional technique and mental toughness, he has become known for beating much bigger opponents. Some arm-wrestlers like to hook and twist the opponent’s wrist. But Mr. Vale prefers the “over-the-top” motion, bending back his opponent’s wrist and forcing his way almost over the top of the foe’s fingers.

Mr. Vale’s sale of seeds has been publicly debated and was presented to Congress in 2000. As a spammer, his case was detailed in “Spam Kings,” by Brian McWilliams.

Even the federal judge who presided over Mr. Vale’s trial, Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn, found it intriguing.

Before sentencing Mr. Vale to 63 months in prison, according to court transcripts, Judge Gleeson remarked that “the crime is mitigated by the fact that there is a germ of legitimacy to Mr. Vale
— that is, he believes these apricot seeds work, whether as a curative or a preventative.”

The judge mused on the possibility of “someday people will look back on those who sold apricot seeds to cure cancer the way we now look back on the prosecution of Galileo for saying that the earth revolved around the sun.” Medical reviews over the years have found no such evidence, however.

Mr. Vale, who has filed an appeal of the conviction
— “just to prove that I was right”
— seems intent on making such authorities eat their words, and to get cancer patients eating apricot seeds.

“The same way that arm-wrestling gave me an edge against cancer, as a competitor, the apricot seeds are also an edge,” he said. “They are the answer to cancer.”

25 Comments
  1. State of Texas has a clause in medical practice law that no physician can be prosecuted for treating cancer patients with laetrile. I guess if he was in texas he would not be prosecuted even if he is not physician himself.

    — Slavisa
  2. Why stop people from curing themselves?

    — wb
  3. Apricot seed is a frequent ingredient in Japanese government-approved, prescription, ancient multiherb formulas that are used by more than 70% of all Japanese physicians and nearly 100% of Japanese OB/Gyns. These prescription formulas are covered by the Japanese national health care insurance. Post-marketing surveillance in place over the past two decades has not revelaed any significant toxicity.

    — Gregory Plotnikoff, MD
  4. How long was he cancer-free while taking the seeds? And he now has a tumor in his kidney after being in jail for 5 years and NOT taking the seeds (I’m assuming they didn’t let him take them in jail)… ?

    Please write another article updating on his progress with this new tumor. If he can prove with his own body that these seeds work… that could change everything.

    — M.B.
  5. Anyone interested in laetrile therapy should take a look at this article rather than the amateurish site linked to this post. It does a fine job of debunking this quackish attempt at cancer treatment.

    http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/abstract/306/4/201

    NY Times, I thought you had higher standards for scientific credibility.

    — AB
  6. AB,

    This is a story about a New York character and the milieu of competitive arm wrestling. We are not endorsing his unscientific claims, which landed him in prison for fraud, as the post notes.

    — Patrick LaForge, City Room editor
  7. IF the NYT is ready to fan the irrational flames of hope for people desperate for a cure, it would behoove responsible journalism to at least briefly discuss at least a few basic tenets of a rational approach to this can of worms.

    — cbum
  8. Why not have the surgery AND take the seeds? Guaranteed he’s dead in five years.

    — Robot Boy
  9. Have we lost the ability to read thoroughly as opposed to just reading what we need/want to make a point?

    The article was published in the City Room section, not Science or Health, first of all. Had the story been titled ‘An Arm-Wrestler’s Over the Top Journey With Apricot Seeds’ then an explanation would have been warranted. But this is about Mr. Vale himself (as a person and his personal interests), and not a profile of his approach to cancer, which is only part of his story. If you’re that interested, the Times pointed you in that direction and it’s up to you to find out more about it. How have they acted irresponsibly by not giving you a complete rundown of a topic that’s tangential their main story? They’re not your personal oncologists or librarians.

    I swear, people decry that contemporary journalism has many problems (and it certainly does) but maybe the deterioration of reading comprehension needs to be included in that conversation, too.

    — AN
  10. There was no fraud first of all during the trial. It was contempt of court. Second of all it’s been 20 years and I’m not dead in response to an above comment.

    The critics can stick to conventional medicine and their pseudo intellect which just prevents simple truths from penetrating your brains. You would think there was a smarter breed reading the times that was capable of seeing through “conventional wisdom” and realizing there’s a lot more to a story where I had thousands of customers and the FDA testified that they had not one complaint.

    Any irrational flames of hope, as mentioned in a comment above, are given by the Cancer Hospitals as they drain the insurance and still have not found cures. My response is to the brainiacs that chalk this off to fraud without knowing the first thing about what is found in seeds and how so many take them and claim their freedom from the killer. In the trial, the FDA would not fight the case on the grounds of fraud because they couldn’t get one person out of my entire data base to claim that we mislead them. So they tried me on contempt and I lost for reasons beyond my control.

    Again, scurvy, rickets, Berri beri, Pellagra, pernicious anemia were all eventually eradicated through a simple vitamin amidst doctors and scientist trying to delay the answer from becoming general knowledge as they looked for a patentable answer on their own.

    — Jason Vale
  11. I wonder if he is the brother of the famous Jared Vale???

    — Burke
  12. I’ve met Jason once, but mostly known him through his brother Jared (10 years), and if a case can be made for a true warrior, laying his life on the line for conviction, and the greatest attempt to help those around, he wins.

    And if the stoic look of individual is paramount to his character, I watched a guy whale during the armwrestle while Jason’s arm was the only part stressed.

    Friend in Queens

    — Joe Franzetti
  13. There it is.

    Jason has just flashed the opposition again.

    thanks for your courage & insight.

    — Ron
  14. Don’t blindly follow medical advice from Doctor’s!!!

    That is the reason Jason is alive today. And, he’ll be alive in 5 years!!!

    — Jared Vale
  15. I Know jason and his brother jarid since Grammer school
    he is a friend and was my coach in youth hockey.
    jason is an amazing guy who excels at anything he puts his mind to.
    he is very serios about Religon and he did not deserve what happend to him. he belives that the seeds work and so do i.

    a true chrstian warrior!!!

    — MS 194
  16. Jason Vale is a TRUE american hero and I know my father (Dr. John A. Richardson) is looking down from heaven with a proud smile. It is amazing to me to see how much the light of truth really shines through Jason. I look forward to meeting him some day in person.

    — John A. Richardson, Jr.
  17. Live and let live. The man stands behind his covictions.
    More than so many people we see in our world today. I hope he becomes a medical doctor and revolutionizes the whole field of Cancer. From what I hear, he is a true genius and is now in Pre-Med school. I hope it is true. YOU SHOW EM JASON. Tanya Porter

    — Tanya
  18. Jason is a true hero that stands tall and proud in what he truly believes in.He believes laetrile works, and for him it does.He would never want anyone to have false hopes,Nor lie to anyone for personal gain.He really is pure at heart…

    — jennifer
  19. Jason is a true friend, a Godly man. When I wasn’t feeling well, he drove to my house to bring over some vitamans, and wouldn’t accept any money . I don’t know any doctors who wold do that.. do you? I have played hours of handball, softball, racquetball, pingpong, baseball, bible studys, worked out, watched him arm wrestle, play pool, seen him in court, played cards with him, prayed with him, laughed, cried…. Jason does everything, the right way, by the rules, by the books, he is fair, honest, good to his friends, and real family man and everything he does is from the heart. He always goes out of his way for people, and fights for what is right. He sticks up for the week and is an example to me and many. God bless you Jason, don’t let these people bring you down. Love you bro, now lets pray God finds you a wife!!

    — Jay Ro
  20. Jason you are a beautiful person inside and out. Don’t let anyone deter you from what you are here to do. You are a walking miracle and testimony on how perfect God made this world “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” ~ Genesis 1:29 ~ It’s simple, just like scurvy and vitamin C, as you mentioned in your comment above.

    — Angie
  21. Excellent article, but I would like to read more about the benefits of Jason’s handball playing, a sport which requires a wider variety of muscle usage and coordination than any other. Also, I would like to read more about Jason defending himself in Federal court. This aspect of his journey is too often overlooked.

    — Joey Genius
  22. The Times claims that reviews over the years have found no evidence to support the use of apricot pits (laetrile) for cancer. Not true. The most recent reviews do indeed say this because they found no studies that met their standards of rigor. They should have said that there is no evidence for or against laetrile.
    There are many cases histories published in medical journals by physicians showing that administering laetrile appeared to have positive effects. These studies should not be ignored, nor should experiences of the kind Jason Vale reported.

    As the Times notes, a 1982 Mayo Clinic study in the New England Journal of Medicine did not show a positive effect of laetrile. This study has been criticized for using impure laetrile, and for allowing a limited duration of treatment, only 21 days. In case histories in which laetrile is reported to have worked, the duration was much longer, about three to four months. Even if the duration were sufficient and the laetrile used were pure, the study was done on patients already considered to be terminal and hopeless, “for which no standard treatment was known to be curative or to extend life expectancy.” Failure of laetrile in this case might only mean that it is not a miracle drug. These concerns were stated in several letters to the editor published in the New England Journal of Medicine but were ignored by Mayo researchers.

    Laetrile needs to be reconsidered.

    — Stephen Krashen
  23. Look at the obvious and the most basic element of any sickness, cure,treatment or disease. IT DOES NOT PAY TO CURE SOMEONE OF A SICKNESS. As Kevin Trudeau so obviously uncovers, the Pharmaceaticul industry is simply a business. They make money by selling more of their product. And they make money when the stockholders are happy. Their goal is NOT to cure people, but rather to keep the stockholders happy.Their goal is simply to get a patient to buy their product for as long as possible. Thats how they make money. Pharmaceuticul industry does not make money if they cure someone. If they did ever mistakingly put a cure out there in the past, it would make a whole lot of sense to take it OFF the market, and off course to find a very good reason as per why they need to take it off.

    And ofcourse when it comes to scientific research, we know that scientists will get paid tomake the findings that the funding company is looking to find. And if they do not find what the funding company is looking to find then that scientist will simply not get funded again. Curious, who funded the research regarding the toxic levels of cianide that ensue while takeing Laetrile?? How many people died due to consuming laetrile? I would be willing to bet that a whole lot more people have died due to aspirin consumption than have died due to apricot seeds.

    In 1975, Nixon declared a war on cancer. Since then billions upon billions of dollars have been steered towards finding this cure. HAS THE RATE OF CANCER INCREASED OR DECREASED SINCE 1975???

    — M. Selearis
  24. The man who makes a success of an important venture never wails for the crowd. He strikes out for himself. It takes nerve, it takes a great lot of grit; but the man that succeeds has both. Anyone can fail. The public admires the man who has enough confidence in himself to take a chance. These chances are the main things after all. The man who tries to succeed must expect to be criticized. Nothing important was ever done but the greater number consulted previously doubted the possibility. Success is the accomplishment of that which most people think can’t be done.
    -C. V. White

    — Jesse Sackin
  25. It’s funny how some people are so quick to pour water on people’s beliefs when they dont agree with there own. I had a chance to read all of these comments and those who denounce Jason are those who are deeply afraid to understand the truth. It is no secret the PHARM industry spends millions of dollars on capital hill each and every year lobbying for medicines which ultimately do more harm than good. Give our government credit…lol they are alot smarter than we give them credit for. A sick nation is a nation which is easier to govern. I’ve only met Jason once, but know is story well and believe in him 100%. Keep up the great work Jason!
    -CJL

    — johnnie cOOgz

© Copyright 2009