Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs Middle School Spanish teacher Braden Wilson saw something in Nicaragua last June that caught him by surprise.
When Wilson found himself lost in Managua - the capital city of more than 1 million people - he rolled down the window of his car to ask for help. From a crowd of people emerged a man wearing a Steamboat Springs Middle School physical education T-shirt with the name of a current eighth-grader written on it.
"It was totally surreal, bizarre, amazing," Wilson recalled thinking. "What are the odds?"
Wilson was on his way to EstelÃ, Nicaragua, to organize a program that sends district high school students on service trips to countries in Central America. He made a wrong turn on a one-way street and ended up in a downtown market area where people were selling everything from cell phones to cows.
Like many Latin American countries, Nicaragua doesn't have any street signs, Wilson said. So he called out to a group of 50 people to ask for directions, and the man wearing the middle school P.E. shirt came forward.
Wilson said he immediately recognized the shirt, but it took his brain a while to process it. Not only was the shirt from Steamboat, but scribbled across its front in black permanent marker was the name of Taylor Dillard, an eighth-grader whom Wilson had as a student just weeks before.
"There has to be a deeper significance," Wilson said. "That's too random."
As he tried to explain the significance of the T-shirt to the man wearing it, Wilson said the stranger told him he bought the shirt from an American store, the equivalent of a thrift store in Nicaragua.
Wilson told Taylor the story on the first day of school a few weeks ago, but Taylor had no idea how one of his old P.E. shirts found its way to Nicaragua.
Wilson guessed that either Dillard's parents donated the shirt to an organization like LIFT-UP of Routt County, or the school donated it after collecting clothing that was left behind at the end of a school year. Wilson said he doubted the shirt could have moved that quickly and thought it may have been Dillard's P.E. shirt from his sixth-grade year.
Deborah Improta, a manager at the LIFT-UP thrift store, said it's not uncommon for them to pass along items they receive if the store doesn't believe it can sell them or if the items are out of season. Improta also said it's not uncommon for LIFT-UP volunteers to take donated clothes and toys on mission trips to other countries. In the past, she said customers have purchased items specifically to donate when they go on trips to foreign countries.
Wilson recalled that the man wearing the middle school T-shirt got a kick out of hearing the story.
"He kind of chuckled. He was kind of happy," Wilson said. "I remember his final words were, 'It's a small world.' I started laughing."