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Local diver recovers 32 rings from Lake Lanier, hopes to find more
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Richard Pickering shows off his No. 30 recovered ring, an engagement ring belonging to Brianna Ruark that he found at Lake Lanier Olympic Park in Gainesville on Tuesday, May 17. Photo courtesy of Brianna Ruark.

As Brianna Ruark and her husband finished a wonderful family day on the lake, she handed him their 11-month-old baby from off the boat. When he reached for their daughter, he unintentionally pulled Ruark’s engagement ring and wedding band off her finger.

As the couple watched the rings descend into the murky depths of Lake Lanier, Ruark mourned the loss of the jewelry. 

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Richard Pickering, left, gives a thumbs up before diving into Lake Lanier to look for Brianna Ruark's rings. Ronin Molina-Salas, right, stands by with extra diving gear. Photo courtesy of Brianna Ruark.

She said her husband, after securing their daughter, jumped into the water to search for the jewelry, but it was “just way too deep where we were.”

“I didn’t have high hopes of ever seeing [wedding set] again,” Ruark said. “I was devastated.”

On Tuesday, May 17, Richard Pickering of Lake Lanier Recovery Divers suited up and hopped in the water at Lake Lanier Olympic Park in Gainesville, close to where she lost her rings

“[The night before], my husband and I were wondering how we could [find the rings] back,” Ruark said. “We [wondered if] we [should] rent scuba gear and go down there, but we don’t know how to dive.”

Thankfully, Pickering does know how to dive, and he has been finding rings for six years, ending 2021 with a total of 29 recovered rings under his belt.

Between putting on his gear and chatting strategies with another diver on his team, Ronin Molina-Salas, Ruark said Pickering found her ring in less than 30 minutes.

“He was up and down in like 20 or 30 minutes,” Ruark said. “It was quick, and I was so shocked he found my ring that fast.”

Pickering ascended with ring No. 30 on his pinky — Ruark’s engagement ring.

She said that while her rings were important to her, the engagement ring was particularly special because the diamond in the middle had been passed down through her family.

When her mother got married, she said her grandmother took the diamond from the original engagement ring and fitted it into hers. When Ruark got married, her mother passed the diamond to her, just as her own mother had done years prior.

Ruark said when her 11-month-old daughter gets married, her engagement ring will sport the same diamond.

“There was big sentimental value [in the engagement ring],” Ruark said. “And I thought I’d lost it.” 

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Brianna Ruark's engagement ring sports a diamond that has been passed down from her grandmother to her mother to her. Someday, Ruark's daughter will wear the diamond in her own engagement ring. Photo courtesy of Brianna Ruark.

According to Pickering, the water at the Lake Lanier Olympic Park was “just covered in trash,” so he and his team couldn’t recover Ruark’s wedding band on the same day. He did find the wedding band within the week, bringing his total to 31 rings found in Lanier.

“It was a tough one,” Pickering said. “The water was really murky; there was no visibility at all.”

Since he began counting the rings he has recovered six years ago, Pickering said he’s never found two in one dive.

“Rings are by far the most difficult, the most challenging but the most rewarding thing I dive for,” Pickering said. “I put in extra, extra effort to find these things.”

Pickering said he takes extra care to look for rings, sometimes busting out the metal detector or a gold dredger he bought from California.

As of Tuesday, May 17, Pickering had accomplished a goal of fishing out 30 rings from Lake Lanier.

By Saturday, May 28, he added two more to the count. He found Ruark’s wedding band and another man’s ring over Memorial Day weekend.

“It makes me feel good when I’m able to do that for people,” Pickering said. “It brings such joy back into their lives. I mean, [Ruark] was crushed when it happened.”

Pickering said he hopes in the future “that people don’t lose their rings to begin with,” encouraging folks visiting the lake to “leave the diamonds at home.”

“But in terms of goals, 35 would be a next milestone [and] 40 would be a big one,” Pickering said. “50 would be a miracle.”

With an average of about five recovered rings a year, Pickering said it might be possible for him to reach 35 by the end of 2022.

“I’ll keep looking for them,” he said. “And, most likely, I’ll always find them.”

This article was originally published in the Forsyth County News, a sister publication of the Dawson County News.