Lilly Stieven, 8, was nearly inconsolable after she crossed the finish line for a third-place finish in the annual cardboard sled race Sunday.

Her father, John Stieven, tried putting things in perspective.

“Last year, we didn’t make it to the finals, did we?” he asked.

“No,” she said.

“Did we make it all the way to the finals this year?”

“Yes,” she said with a strained voice holding back tears.

The key to this year’s success was adding runners to the sled — a bright green chameleon with a curly tail and bulging eyes. A collision with another wayward sled slowed Lilly down on the final race.

The Stievens’ two sleds were among 23 cardboard creations families brought to the Rochester Country Club to compete in the seventh annual cardboard sled race. Proceeds from the event go to the Minnesota Children’s Museum of Rochester.

The sleds are not only products of family cooperation and children’s imaginations, but also applied learning for returning racers.

“It’s fun to hear what families did to tweak their sleds to make them faster,” said Beth Sherden, director of Minnesota Children’s Museum of Rochester. “That’s hands-on learning, and that’s what we’re all about.”

Sherden said she noted Lilly's green chameleon in the races.

"That's a fast one," she said.

For Lilly, it was runners. For Jaxsen Heightland, 7, it was the star on his Mario Cart-themed sled.

“The star makes it go faster,” he said. “The bottom is important, too.”

The sled’s rounded front helped too, said Mat Heightland, Jaxsen’s father.

“If you get that rounded piece on the front, you can avoid that drag,” he said.

The rounded front end gave Jaxsen and co-pilot Dash Gorman, 3, first place in the day’s races.

Lilly’s younger brother, Vinny, 5, won runner up for best design with his dinosaur sled. The sled was fast, he said, “but not fast enough.”

“Next time, I’m going to make a jet — a Star Wars jet,” he said.

After a moment of consideration of his sister’s success, he suggested another design.

“Maybe I’ll make a chameleon,” he said.

“That’s how it goes,” John said. “You learn something to do better each year.”

The Minnesota Children’s Museum of Rochester will be rebranded as "Spark" for next year's event, but that won't change the popular competition and fundraiser, Sherden said.

"This is a tradition in the community," she said. "We're not going to let it go."

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