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Power couple Monte, Patrice Sanders strong in love

The story of Monte and Patrice Sanders just might be the classic fitness fairy tale. Girl hires trainer. Sparks fly over sit-ups. Trainer turns boyfriend, then fiance, then husband. Healthy, happily ever after.

As Baltimore's newest power couple approach their first anniversary, they're closer than ever, indulging in candid displays of public affection, embarking on projects together, thinking about expanding their family and, after a fairly hushed courtship, talking about how a news anchor fell for a celebrity trainer.

"I think we could win 'The Newlywed Game,' " Monte Sanders, who's 45, says of his 40-year-old bride. "I think we have a good head start."

WBFF's longtime morning anchor Patrice Harris had never heard of Monte Sanders, personal trainer to the likes of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, until he came on the show in 2006. She didn't interview him, but after they chatted on the set, she thought he'd be perfect for one of her "Up to the Challenge" segments, where she hits the streets to try someone's job or fulfill a dare. She wanted to attempt the Ray Lewis workout.

"I thought I was in OK shape, but I was so sore by the end of that. I thought to myself, 'I should not ever be this sore.' "

So she hired him to be her trainer.

But at some point, as Harris lost weight and gained muscle, the trainer who had been all business took a turn for the flirty — and the client was receptive. Sanders says Harris came into his life when he was ready to settle down, even praying that he might meet someone.

On their first date — dinner at a Japanese restaurant — Harris, a photo nut who never encountered a moment she didn't want to record for posterity, asked a stranger to snap their picture.

"I'm not a picture guy. I'm, like, totally opposite. I've never taken pictures. It was kind of weird with her and her camera," says Sanders, who has been married once before and has a 22-year-old daughter. "It wasn't that I didn't like it, it was just that I was unfamiliar. She's just broadened my horizon on so many things.

"Who sky-dives? She sky-dives. She's a daredevil. She wants to jump off cliffs in Jamaica. If I was younger, I'd think she was crazy, and no way. But when you're older, those are the things that attracted me to her."

He proposed — elaborately — in October 2011. It was a well-hatched plan that almost wasn't.

Sanders arranged to borrow the yacht of his clients, Steve and Renee Bisciotti. He'd tell Harris the Bisciottis were inviting them onto the boat for a late-season harbor cruise. And when she got to the boat, there would be no Bisciottis, just a ring. Except that the weekend it was to happen, one of Harris' girlfriends came to town and they decided to get a hotel room and have a girls-only weekend.

No matter what Sanders said, they had no interest in a boat ride.

Panicking, Sanders called Harris' mom and sisters. One of the sisters called Harris, asked to chat with her friend, and told her why the boat ride was not negotiable. Shortly after the phone call, the girlfriend told Harris she was in the mood for a cruise after all.

The two women arrived, and it was Sanders on the boat with Ray Lewis and another friend. Sanders came out with a fat bouquet. He told her to look out over the water. When she looked back, he was on his knees.

"I just completely lost it," she says. "It was perfect."

And by that time, Sanders knew his fiancee. He had the other folks on board with cameras. The woman who wanted pictures of the first date certainly couldn't do without photo evidence of the proposal.

"She was so shocked when she saw me on my knees with the ring that she didn't even listen to what I was saying," Sanders says, laughing. "She came back later and asked me, 'What did you say? Say it again.' "

They married last summer at the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach. They realized they were falling in love during a Florida vacation, and the area holds a lot of meaning them.

It was only around 100 people, a morning ceremony with an almost too-perfect ocean backdrop. Lewis was the best man. The Rev. Jamal Bryant flew down from Baltimore to officiate.

Though they'd written vows, they recited traditional ones in front of the guests. They saved the personal ones for later, back in the hotel room when they were alone.

Though women in the news business who trade on their well-known names are often reluctant to change them, Harris didn't hesitate to become Patrice Sanders. Though her professional advisers balked, she held firm.

"I just always knew that I'd change my name because I'm very traditional in that sense," she says. "My management was very resistant. They said, 'How about Patrice Harris Sanders'? I said no. They said, 'How about just doing that for a few weeks or a few months, then we drop Harris?' I said no.

"For me, I love my career and I've been doing news 18 years. But that wasn't the most important thing anymore. One day I'm not going to work at Fox, but I'm still going to be married to my husband."

The two have made their home in Carroll County, moving into a spacious home on property that spreads over several serene acres. Since they moved in over the holidays, they've painted and started putting other personal touches on the home. Their portrait hangs in the dining room. A statue of two lions that Patrice bought Monte for his birthday rests prominently in the foyer — he sometimes calls her his "lioness." A commemorative Super Bowl doormat greets visitors out front.

Their three dogs — a Rottweiler named Konan, and pugs named Bella and Seymour — co-exist happily and enjoy roaming their spacious lawn.

It's been a busy first year, between the house, expanding Fit Families (the nonprofit organization they created to fight childhood obesity), working out together regularly and thinking about starting a family.

"Monte tells everyone we come across, 'Oh we're working it,' " Patrice says jokingly.

Yet there's still plenty of time for the newlyweds to be newlyweds. She lights candles. He serves her breakfast in bed.

"We can tell each other we love each other all day long," she says.

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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