De La Varre and his new book

Posted on February 29, 2008 by


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Published: Feb 23, 2008 02:36 PM
Modified: Feb 23, 2008 02:36 PM

Taking the long way home
For one local author, running isn’t a solution, but it helps

Rene de la Varre has grown fond of ultra distances, even if long hauls like this race up Grandfather Mountain left him worn out.
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CHAPEL HILL — Don’t tell Rene Paul de la Varre that it’s impossible to run away from one’s problems.Maybe “away” is the wrong word. “From” might be better … as in, “out of,” “starting at” or “beginning with.”

De la Varre will admit he’s still got problems, describing himself as “a work in progress.” But he’s come a long way.

In his recently published book, “Like Pop, Like Schling,” ($17.95, iUniverse, 206 pages, paperback), de la Varre unveils a lot of his problems. Perhaps more importantly, he tries to find some solutions.

“It’s a memoir, but it’s also a self-help book,” de la Varre says. “A lot of people have similar problems, and you have to confront your demons and best them, before they best you.”

Running has been one of the best weapons available to de la Varre. To be sure, there’s also his family, and Zoloft, and therapy. But running provides the bookends of his writing.

His long, solitary run in the Umstead 100 Ultramarathon in North Carolina and through the Scottish Highlands provide the starting and ending passages of the work. (His first-person accounts of running sagas have previously appeared in The Chapel Hill News.)

“Running has been a real cure for me,” de la Varre says.

A talented and driven athlete in his youth who had an abortive collegiate pitching career at the University of South Carolina, de la Varre found that physical exertion helped him cope with many of the disappointments and family tragedies that otherwise might have killed him, or at the very least embittered him.

“I challenged myself with ultramarathons and long-distances,” he recalls. “I needed that outlet. And I found that running and writing went together; I needed that to stimulate my creativity.”

De la Varre intended to write the book almost as soon as his father died seven years ago, but kept putting it off.

“I closed myself off,” he said. Running helped him to release his creativity.

Would-be authors are advised to write about what they know best and what’s familiar to them. That’s a huge advantage to de la Varre, because what could be a wandering autobiographical tome is instead full of interesting accounts from his past: growing up well-traveled in Europe and later becoming a naturalized American citizen; Pops, a successful film-maker father, who lived in liberal bastions but who also loved Nixon and alcohol, the latter proving to be his downfall and the reason for a bizarre, fiery death; a Viennese mother who modeled and was a gifted pianist but who also unintentionally acquiesced to her husband’s alcoholism; his own troubles with maturity and concentration, irrevocably linked, he is to find, to his genetic predisposition; but, ultimately, finding a good woman to love, to love him, and to bring about a loving family.

Like de la Varre’s runs, “Like Pops…” wanders a bit. (And a North Carolinian has to grit his teeth sometimes to endure things like erroneously referring to Watergate Committee chair Sen. Sam Ervin as Irvin.) But mistakes are the very thing de la Varre address, and they are part of his charm.

Sports Editor Elliott Warnock can be reached at 932-8743 or
2008 The Chapel Hill News