Meet the Guy Behind All Those Cool Videos on SparkPeople

By , SparkPeople Blogger
A few weeks back, we shared a peek inside the SparkPeople offices. Paul had just returned from paternity leave and his co-workers welcomed him with a new office!
You said you'd love to know more about SparkPeople, so we've decided to launch a new series: Meet the SparkPeople Team. Over the coming weeks and months, we'll be interviewing various SparkPeople employees. The behind-the-scenes folks here are really excited to tell you a little about what they do at SparkPeople!

Paul was the one who inspired this series, so we thought it only fitting to let him kick off "Meet the SparkPeople Team."

Name: Paul "Terminator" Elfers

Position at SparkPeople: Software Engineering Manager

Age: 31

Family: Lovely and charming wife Amy and two daughters--3-year-old Anna, who is incredibly articulate and cheerful, and newborn daughter Leah, who is a great sleeper--a big coup for the parents of any newborn.

How long have you worked for SparkPeople?
I've worked for SparkPeople since August of 2005--so, getting close to 4 years. However, I actually did a small amount of consulting work for SparkPeople in 2000/2001. I've known Chris ("SparkGuy" Downie) and worked with him for about 10 years now--first at eBay and now here at SparkPeople.

Tell us your proudest accomplishment at SparkPeople or a fun fact about your job:
Wow, it is hard to choose! One sort of funny thing, I think, is that the Coach Nicole videos sort of grew out of something I did for fun one afternoon: the SparkPeople Office Taste Test.

I had this idea to do something silly to show people eating gross foods that they weren't prepared for. I hoped it would be sort of funny and something that people would send around. To get the desired effect, I paired gross foods with normal foods. One example was lemonade paired with lemon juice. So, people first drank lemonade, and they assumed that next they were going to drink different lemonade and choose which they liked better. Instead, they got lemon juice as the second drink, and they were not ready for it. So, we ended up with some funny reactions on camera. To try and be fair, I drank all the gross stuff myself, too. We strung all the reactions together and punctuated it with "Nutrition shouldn't be this hard." It wasn't any big deal, but it was fun.

One side effect, though, was that people said, "Hey, you can shoot and edit video? We want to shoot some stuff with Coach Nicole." So, Nicole and I came up with the first video idea--the desk workout. It wasn't really a big plan, just something that happened. Now, of course, people can't get enough of Coach Nicole and her videos have been watched millions of times.

How do you stay in shape?
I try to be open to any kind of activity, but my mainstays are jiu-jitsu, weight lifting and running.

Jiu-jitsu is a martial art, but it is an atypical martial art in a lot of ways. For one thing, there is a focus on live sparring against a resistive opponent. That means if you and I spar and we're both trying to win. It isn't one person practicing a move and another person just helping them. This lends itself to higher intensity workouts. It also has a quality like playing a video game–where you want to learn the cool moves and be able to win and beat your buddies. Also, it always sounds like a good idea… versus some more traditional ways of working out that can seem like a chore.

Also, unlike a lot of martial arts, the emphasis is on ground work. It looks a lot more like wrestling than like karate or anything like that. I got involved about 7 or 8 years ago, and I am a blue belt under UFC veteran Jorge Gurgel. I hope to earn my purple belt from him this year. (Editor's note: Paul has since earned his purple belt! Congratulations!) We'll see. I get it when he decides I’ve earned it. (Paul is on the left and Jorge is on the right in the photo. It was taken when Paul earned his purple belt!)

I do weight lifting and running with guys from the office. My main workout partner is fellow SparkPeople employee Jeremy Martin. He and I lift weights and run about 4 days a week. We sometimes mix things up and try things like circuits, shadow boxing, or seasonal stuff like playing basketball, football or tennis. But, most of the time, just vanilla weight lifting and running. :) This year SparkPeople put together a cardio theatre with treadmills and a projector to play movies. In the winter months, which are kind of severe here in Cincinnati, we have really enjoyed having the cardio theatre.

What's your favorite food?
It is tough to pick. For "normal" food, it must be pizza. For "fancy" food, I'd say Indian food. I love Mater Paneer.

What's your favorite indulgence?
I try not to go overboard too often, but when I've been good about things for a while and feel like I've earned it, I love to have some junk food while watching a movie or sports.

Also I love caffeine – coffee and energy drinks like sugar-free Red Bull or Monster. These things are not good for you. You shouldn’t get hooked. But, I am and I love them.

How do you feel when you exercise?
When I'm doing things right, I'm totally in the moment and the part of my mind that worries and gets preoccupied with things shuts off. The workouts themselves might not look as peaceful as yoga or meditation, but the effect is the same.

What do you do to de-stress?
I find most of my workouts to be de-stressers, actually. Outside of working out, I like to read. I like cheesy guy stuff like noir novels. I’m reading Raymond Chandler right now.

What is your passion in life?
My passion in life is working on a small team of good people and doing something creative as a part of that. I've been incredibly lucky that all the jobs I've had mostly conformed to this model. Of them all, SparkPeople is by far the best.

How has working at SparkPeople affected your life?
I think I've learned a lot about myself and my own healthy habits, or sometimes the lack thereof. Also, even though my part of the company is not interfacing directly with our users very often, I still enjoy knowing that so many people are helped and grateful for the site. I don't know that my part of it is that critical to what people love, but I'm sure some things I've built have helped some people. I like knowing that.

What's your favorite breakfast cereal?
I put raw oatmeal in my protein shakes. That's about as close as I come to breakfast cereal!

You can see my recipe (actually, Jorge Gurgel's recipe!) here.

What did you eat for dinner last night?
We ate chicken medallions with spinach and a little cream cheese. I think that’s what it was! It was a meal donated to us by friends since we just had our second daughter, Leah. Our friends have been super generous and our fridge has been full for two or three weeks! I'm sure Amy and I won't know what to do when it is time for us to cook ourselves again.

Do you have any hidden talents?
I'm a pretty good singer at "Rock Band." Ok, probably not.

What's your favorite SparkPeople feature?
For me personally, it is the good old Nutrition Tracker. I'm the worst person ever at guessing how much I've had to eat or how much I should eat. I'm way better off just tracking. It is a night and day difference when I'm being good about tracking verses when I'm just mentally keeping track in my mind.

What questions should we add to this feature? Do you like this new series? We'll be scheduling other SparkPeople employees in the future!