When he wanted to join the local Rowing Club in Durham City as a ten-year old, his mother insisted he should swim first. He liked it so much he took up swimming rather than rowing. Six years later Norman Woods Sarsfield was the city champion.
He was qualified as a teacher before enlisting in the British Army in 1940 and achieved the rank of Captain, serving in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Austria. In 1943, he was awarded the Military Cross for “gallantry under fire.” At the war’s end, he won gold medals at the Army Swimming championships before returning to Dunham where he reclaimed his championship titles and played on the water polo team until 1956.
This is the brief background for a man who would give a lifetime of service to promote swimming on local, national and international levels and whose induction into the Hall of Fame is long overdue.
From 1947 through 1970, Sarsfield was a school swimming teacher. That was his day job. In his “off time” he was a tireless volunteer with the local and regional chapters of the Amateur Swimming Association. He officiated at the 1948 Olympic Games, wrote instructional books and made training films for divers. He also coached both swimmers and divers and moved rapidly up the ranks of the ASA. In 1955, he started traveling as manager or coach of various England and British Swimming and Diving Teams and in 1958 was awarded the “European Swimming Coach of the Year” at the European Championships in Budapest.
In 1961, he developed the Personal Survival Awards. The awards were designed to promote confidence, learn to swim, fun, personal achievement and survival. He gave the commercial rights to the ASA and provided it, as a result, with much needed funding. He also devised the flipper-float method of teaching swimming for anyone to learn how to swim in ten minutes.
In 1966, he was elected President of the ASA, the youngest person to hold the office in the 20th century and in 1970 retired from teaching to become the first full-time, professional secretary general of the ASA. That same year he was appointed Chairman of the FINA Technical Swimming Committee and became a member of LEN’s Executive Committee and would serve as LEN’s Honorary Secretary for almost twenty years. He served as a member of the sports councils of the Central UK, Europe and the Commonwealth Games and was an outspoken proponent for the inclusion of synchronized swimming in the 1973 FINA World Championships and later for developing Masters Swimming and teaching the disabled to swim.
Sarsfield was a renowned orator and formidable debater who was also active in politics, first elected to the Durham Council in 1955 and then Mayor in 1964. During the time of the 1980 Moscow Olympic boycott, he was an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Thatcher’s desire to stop the British team from competing at the Games, saying that sport was non-political. He refused to accept the Prime Minister’s view, personally giving her his opinion, which won the day leading to the team’s successful competition at the Games.
He is author of four instructional books with a combined 11 editions titled: “Swimming for Everyone”, “Better Swimming”, “Competitive Swimming” and “Diving Instruction”.
In 1981 he was awarded the O.B.E., The Order of the British Empire, by Queen Elizabeth. He received the FINA Silver Pin in 1990 and was presented with the FINA Trophy by President Mustapha Larfaoui, for all his services to swimming. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 93.