Dunbar track and field coach Guy Thomas wasn’t familiar with Natyri Pitts heading into preseason practices, but learned everything he needed to know about the senior sprinter over 53 seconds in late January.
In his first year out for the Tigers’ track team, Pitts bet another runner he could torch him in a 400-meter dash.
Pitts did just that.
“It was mind blowing,” Thomas said. “I’d never seen anything like it.”
Even with minimal training, Pitts was on his way to a promising senior season as one of the top sprinters in Lee County before enduring a week that threatens to derail him emotionally and physically.
On Friday, Pitts’ brother, 17-year old Nathaniel W. Pitts, was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting on the 2700 block of Dr. Ella Piper Way in Dunbar.
Two days later, Natyri suffered a non-life-threatening gunshot wound to a leg while playing basketball at Pauldo and Thomas streets from another drive-by shooting. Natyri called Thomas crying from Lee Memorial Hospital.
“I was taken aback,” Thomas said. “He apologized to me for putting the team in jeopardy. He knew his (400-meter) relay team could be in a position to win a state title. I don’t know what the situation is, but I told him he wouldn’t be putting the team in jeopardy. That’s just the kind of kid he is.”
Thomas said Natyri was “trying to remove himself from his past” and raised his grades so he could compete on the track team. He added Natyri was a “class act” who never missed a practice, building on the natural talent he showed that day during preseason practice.
“We have a lot of fast kids that can roll out of bed and run a great 100,” Thomas said. “But when you’re talking about the 400, you’re dealing with speed, endurance and strength. You’re body has to adapt to the stress of running a 400. With no coaching or anything, he came out and ran a 53. I told him he had something special.”
Along with teammates Seneca Milledge, Lajuan Preston and Desmond Davis, Natyri was a part of a 400 relay team that has one of the state’s top times. The Tigers ran a 42.08 at the Naples Eagle Invitational last month.
Thomas said Natyri already had a scholarship offer from Edward Waters College in Jacksonville thanks to his early-season performances on the track.
Despite not starting from blocks, Natyri’s top time in the 100-meter dash this season is 11.23 and he ran a 51.78 to take second in the 400 at the Edison Relays at Fort Myers High a few weeks ago.
Thomas speaks with Natyri frequently, but isn’t sure whether the senior will make it back on the track this season.
“I don’t know much about it. I have to speak with his doctors about the severity later this week,” Thomas said.